Advice has been given to many a writer suggesting that they write what they know, and that’s exactly what writer Glen Brunswick does in “Reality Check” #1. At least, it appears that way, as the lead character in Brunswick’s story is writer/artist Willard Penn with his foot in the door of the comic industry looking for his first big break with his self-created “Dark Hour” comic book.
That’s right, the creator of this comic made the story about the creator of a comic. Brunswick isn’t the first to tackle the idea, but his effort is certainly one of the better ones. His story is framed around one of every creator’s worst nightmares: the computer that mysteriously deletes a career’s worth of Penn’s work, compounded by the odd fact that Penn has no recollection of any of his ideas, other than knowing that he had some great ones at one point. It’s a simple enough story that should resonate with anyone who’s ever forgotten a brilliant idea or lost a working draft of a project to an evil hard drive with an appetite. Brunswick adds some depth by interspersing the story with flashbacks to Penn’s past and his inspiration to write and draw, as well as sequences from his fictional “Dark Hour” comic that parallel some aspects of Penn’s own life.
It’s a formula that could have needlessly complicated a simple idea, but Brunswick pulls it off and in fact connects these three perspectives together, showing how Penn’s younger years inspired not only his career direction but also his comic book. Penn’s yearning for companionship also comes out in his comic, so although “Dark Hour” features what looks like a fairly typical Batman archetype, the snippets of the story actually show that the title character has some significant relationship issues; something usually not associated with most of the characters patterned after the Dark Knight.
Artist Viktor Bogdanovic doesn’t try anything fancy when bringing Brunswick’s story to life; his line work and panel layouts are simple, and he draws character likenesses with just enough detail not only tell them apart, but to tell when a character Penn’s comic is supposed to look like one from his real life. If Bogdanovic isn’t from LA, he’s probably been there enough times to know how to make it look convincing; there’s no denying where this story takes place, even if it weren’t mentioned in Brunswick’s narrative. Paul Little’s colors help things along too, by differentiating sunny Los Angeles from Dark Hour’s grayer world.
The only real concern with the parallels Brunswick lays out in this issue is that they’re a bit too literal; he draws a meaningful similarity between two incidents that happened to Penn and his older brother in their younger years, but the conclusion of one kind of telegraphs that of the other later on. And the state of Penn’s personal life foreshadows that of his Dark Hour character to an extent. All of this fosters a sense of predictability that persists as the issue proceeds.
This comic would have been entertaining enough as a look at the life of a young, independent creator trying to make it in the industry, but Brunswick throws in a far-reaching surprise at the end of the issue; or at least, it would have been a surprise, had it not been spoiled on the very cover of this comic. This last-minute development is almost a disappointment, as it gives an indication that the comic might shift away from its well-established real-life feel to a larger-than-life one in future issues. Regardless, this issue stands on its own as something that anyone who’s tried to make a go of it in the business can relate to, and it provides a big enough shock at the end to make readers see where it goes next.