With “Night Force” #1, there’s an interesting set-up from Marv Wolfman: a mysterious mansion and its two occupants, a series of bargains with unwilling participants, a woman being attacked by unknown persons. However, the big attraction for reading “Night Force” #1 has got to be the art, courtesy the talented Tom Mandrake.
Mandrake’s art here is stunning, starting on the very first page. His art style involves a lot of thin lines, laid out quite closely to one another. The opening splash for “Night Force” #1 shows that to great effect; they form the waves crashing over Zoe’s head, the drift of her hair as the water pulls it around, even the shading on the hands around her throat. It’s a strong overall effect, helped out by colorist Wes Hartman who uses a series of shades of blue to make you feel almost like you could reach out and touch the water itself.
Mandrake continues to draw strong pages throughout the entire comic; the slightly older, tired look on Jim Duffy’s face as he saves Zoe from her strangler is framed perfectly in the center of the page, drawing your attention to him even as you then stop and take in the scene unfolding above and below. The rooms in Wintergate Manor are simultaneously sumptuous with their fine carpets and furniture and decaying with the spread of cobwebs in the ceiling and ever-growing shadows on the walls. When those shadows attack, it’s Mandrake at his finest. The thin lines that Mandrake uses help the shadows not only have substance but to slide across the page in a way a solid black form wouldn’t be able to move. There’s a real feel of motion and energy on these pages in a moment that could have come across as simple and unmemorable. Even the shifting and tilting panels on the page, which are an old trick, feel fresh and interesting because of the care in which Mandrake pivots them on a point on the page, rotating them around into a semi-circle to once again give that impression of movement.
This isn’t to take away from the writing of Wolfman. My only previous exposure to “Night Force” was seeing Baron Winters in “Books of Magic” #2 by Neil Gaiman and Scott Hampton back in the day, so I’d gone in with no expectations. The story isn’t bad at all, planting the Baron as a master manipulator who seems to be losing control of the game. Everyone has secrets here and while it’s a set-up where we’ll need to start having some secrets revealed to keep things from getting too tiresome, it’s a solid introduction.
“Night Force” #1 has a good enough opening script, but it’s the art that makes me dying to see more. Mandrake is an artist who deserves to be a superstar (the lack of a definitive collection of his and John Ostrander’s “The Spectre” run saddens me and my bookshelf). He’s just that good. Come for the premise of “Night Force,” but definitely stay for the art.