In 1943, Robert Bloch — future writer of “Psycho” — appeared in an issue of “Weird Tales” with one of the earliest examples of Jack the Ripper fiction. Bloch used specific historical details about the Ripper murders in Whitechapel, but his story took place in then-contemporary Chicago. It imagined a world in which Jack still lived, a supernatural horror of a killer pursued by reporters and police officers and psychiatrists alike.
I don’t know if Bloch’s name has enough cache to warrant his name taking up such a prominent space on the cover, but the Kevin Colden-designed cover image is striking, and its blacks and bluish-grays and reds signal that this will be a distinctive-looking comic book adaptation. And it is.
Colden, of the Eisner-nominated “Fishtown” and the formerly-of-Zuda “I Rule the Night,” uses a similar coloring approach in this comic that he has used on his other projects. Here, though, he accents his two-color scheme with shocking bursts of red, and he takes a more abstract approach to some of the backgrounds. Though he renders background details when necessary — to set the scene or evoke a mood — he also splices in what looks like zip-a-tone cutouts to replace the backgrounds at various points throughout the story. It’s an effective choice, giving the story (set in the 1940s like the original story) a period feel, not just because of the clothes and the cars. It’s a kind of hip art deco design, and even though Colden surely used computer effects to give the zip-a-tone look, his hard angles look like they were cut manually with a pair of scissors.
It’s an appropriately jagged technique for a Jack the Ripper comic, certainly.
The story in issue #1 provides an interesting variation on the usual Jack the Ripper stories. As a comic, it has the disadvantage of being on the same playing field as the Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell “From Hell,” and this comic just doesn’t have any of the manic intensity of that now-legendary take on the Ripper legends. But “Yours Truly” does have its own charms, with a Rosalind Russell type of reporter teaming up with a corpulent sort-of-detective from England — a man whose father was an inspector on the original Ripper case, and he’s now taken up his father’s quest to find and stop Bloody Jack. The dynamic between those two, Guy Hollis and Jenny Davis, serves as the core of this first issue, and it’s a good one.
Then there’s that scene where Jack shows up and decapitates a body. That might be Colden’s best moment in the first issue, and it’s chilling and gruesomely funny in an extremely uncomfortable way.
“Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” feels a little flat at times, with characters who are a bit too declarative, but the odd situations and offbeat artwork help to give the first issue a flavor that sets it apart from other comics on the stands this month. That’s not a bad way to kick off a miniseries.