“Control #1” aspires to be modern hard-boiled noir crime fiction, but it struggles to present anything original to overcome its overused tropes. Andy Diggle and Angela Cruickshank’s script gives us Detective Kate Burnham, the tough female detective who may or may not have secrets, and Andrea Mutti’s art shows Washington D.C.’s seedy side, but both lack the cohesion necessary to give the story a smooth flow.
Burnham and her partner begin the issue shooting pool in a bar, and Diggle and Cruickshank use their conversation to establish his characters, while the element of political intrigue — which will become important later — arrives via a television broadcast. Overall, it’s a serviceable introduction that doesn’t rely on outside narration. The relationship between the partners is strictly business, so their lack of rapport makes it difficult to sympathize with either one of them.
As events progress and each partner makes life-or-death choices, readers accept the consequences while remaining completely emotionally detached. In the world of “Control,” we understand Burnham’s decision to follow procedure and attend to the victims first with a sense of detachment, while her partner ignores procedure and pursues the killer. However, since he was being a jerk in the bar, it’s difficult to care about what happens to him.
The issue’s central mystery and political intrigue are solid plotlines and should be entertaining (even if predicable) as the story progresses, but the story can’t succeed when the artwork doesn’t propel it along. Andrea Mutti’s designs and Vladimir Popov’s colors just aren’t a cohesive combination; Mutti’s panel constructions are stiff, and the lack of diversity in facial expressions contributes to the reader’s emotional detachment. However, Mutti deftly captures the gritty backgrounds of a noir comic and sets up Washington D.C. as a wonderfully ominous location. Nevertheless, the attention to detail and depth that went into creating places should also have gone into the characters as well.
Colorist Vladimir Popov selected muted earth tones and shades of black for the book, likely hoping to invoke a noir atmosphere, but modern noir lives in vivid shades as well as shadows, as Elizabeth Breitweiser has skillfully demonstrated in books like “Fatale” and “The Fade Out.” In “Control #1,” Popov has almost everyone wearing black jackets, with the noticeable exception of one cop who inexplicably appears in a green suit. Rather than helping move the reader through the panels with a sense of progress and purpose, this monotone presentation is a distraction, and unfortunately, it’s a lost opportunity to engage the reader.
I’m a huge fan of police procedurals and all things noir, so I really wanted to love “Control #1.” Storytelling in comics works when the art and story complement each other, but they are in conflict here. I’d like to see where Diggle, Cruickshank and Mutti are going to take the story, so I’ll check out issue #2, but I hope the creative team will make some adjustments to more fully realize Burnham’s world.