“Deceivers” opens as a series about con artists ought to: With a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of plotting. Right out of the gate, Grant blazes through a sizable cast of characters with a similarly sizable range of motivations, not all of them easily discernible. It’s often difficult to follow how one action leads to another, or how new faces fit into the cast. Both the writing and the panel construction play their part in this muddle, resulting in a slick atmosphere but a jerky narrative.
Grant’s dialogue is smooth enough, and occasionally snappy, as the story gets rolling. Though “Deceivers” purportedly focuses on two con artists and a CIA agent, the reader only spends any quality time with Lincoln McCord, the first con artist, in this issue. Grant makes McCord quite likable, a good-time cowboy with a (pretty) good heart. However, he works too hard to make Lincoln seem cool. With lines like “I don’t make plans, life’s more fun without them,” Lincoln does too much speechifying and buying of his own BS to pull it off. Less would have been more, here.
The audience also has to do a little too much work to figure out the characters’ identities. Secret agents from various nations and criminals from various organizations show up without introduction, and while you can eventually figure out who they are, it usually involves looking back a few panels or intuiting with fingers crossed. This ambiguity might work if the story dealt with a less international cast, but with so many interests on hand, the audience needs more help. In addition, many character introductions occur in scene-setting panels where no one is large enough to be clearly identified. The dialogue will begin in these zoomed-out panels before proceeding to close-ups, and when the close-ups finally arrive, the reader has to do some work to match the dialogue from the previous panels to the corresponding face.
It doesn’t help that these panels often aren’t well-constructed. Holder’s art at its best is breezy and cool, with easy postures and sharp smiles. He’s at his worst in the heavily inked action scenes, where the movement isn’t drawn with a real suggestion of strength or force. The cuts from panel to panel are strangely selected, and there’s no sense of following the movement from one to the next.
A lot of the credit for the book’s strong atmosphere goes to Fitzpatrick’s coloring. She’s versatile and smart throughout the issue. When a Contessa throws a fancy toga party, the rooms are painted in light blues and whites that evoke classical statues. The fight scenes are made far more dramatic with murky navy backgrounds and pulpy orange flashes over the punches. She creates a strong sense of place, and uses her colors to help characters stand out better in wider, more crowded scenes. And the issue’s design, by Kelsey Dieterich, also deserves some praise; the title page is super cool.
I definitely appreciate it when creators trust the audience, and Grant gives his readers a lot of it, here. However, in a story about con artists and spies, the real fun is in watching everyone play their game, and you need to know what game everyone is running in order to appreciate their plays.