On the cover of Jonathan Ross and Ian Churchill’s “Revenge” #1, right below the title logo in smaller letters against a plain white background, are the words clearly exclaiming, “For Mature Readers.” Sometimes this phrase means adult themes and grown-up situations not meant for children, but more often it serves as an announcement to readers to get ready for lots of violence, sex and bad language in a comic that may or may not have some semblance of a story woven in between.
“Revenge” #1 has all of that, and plenty of it, except for the part about containing much of a story. The story, contrived, cliched and single-minded, is about — yes — revenge, and readers quickly find out that Churchill’s eye-catching black, white and red-spattered Punisher-esque cover is as good as things are going to get.
Ross’ main character is an aging Hollywood actor named Griffin Franks who plays a vigilante called The Revenger (which was also the title this comic was originally solicited under) in a resurgent film franchise. Franks, though, has someone close to him plotting their own revenge, which in turn results in him plotting his own vengeance against those who wronged him. Yes, it’s all about revenge, and that’s made known up front, but Ross nonetheless takes every subsequent opportunity to hit readers over the head with constant reminders.
The comic revels in caricatures, including the celebrity actor living a large and decadent lifestyle, the snooty but unhappy trophy wife, and the creepy surgeon with the unsavory staff and dirty back room operations. Ross even struggles with some of these; he can’t seem to decide if Franks is making a comeback, or is washed up as an actor. Ross draws parallels between Franks’ Revenger persona and his actual life, and while the cliched, over-the-top dialogue of Franks’ B-movie character is believable enough, the same thing coming from all of the characters in the comic is not, and one has to wonder if this awful dialogue was intentional for some misguided reason, or if it’s just bad scripting.
Churchill’s art plays right into the simple-minded nature of the story, with plenty of nudity, sexual acts and grisly surgical scenes. The opening sequence, in fact, is gruesome enough to probably make Garth Ennis proud, but it only carries on from there, interspersed with flashbacks and horrific, nightmarish images. A graphically-detailed surgery is prolonged throughout the entire issue, practically to the point where it goes beyond shock value and moves into sheer boredom. Both Ross and Churchill make it abundantly, annoyingly and even insultingly clear: this ghastly occurrence is all about betrayal, inflicting deliberate pain, and yes; revenge, in case anyone forgot.
Churchill delivers a nice cover and some attractive interior pages, but his talents are largely wasted here, and this comic is otherwise pure misery. It wallows amongst the sticky floors, torn upholstery and overall seediness of its grindhouse mentality, flaunting itself yet providing nothing that can’t already be found in such films, or other comics. Sex, violence and bad language can be great if served up with a story that requires them. “Revenge” #1 serves up nothing of the kind, and is best left on the shelf.