Having recently taken another leave from his “Spawn” title, Todd McFarlane and frequent writing collaborator Brian Holguin launch “Savior” #1, revealing both the possible origin as well as the downfall of a young man seen by many as a messiah figure. Illustrator Clayton Crain brings both a grandiose and everyday feel to McFarlane’s story, alternating styles to keep it both engaging and surprising. Borrowing some of the same broad religious allusions used in “Spawn,” McFarlane and Holguin introduce an intriguing central character as well as some interesting supporting ones.
It’s not hard to tell this is a McFarlane story; part of the plot is told from the perspective of a television viewer or a television cameraman, a technique that helped define the feel of “Spawn” and is well-executed here by Crain. It’s also a bit verbose, as McFarlane’s scripts often are, but the words are all put to good use to define the characters, so it doesn’t come across as talky as it actually is. In fact, Crain’s art does the talking on its own in several scenes, giving further balance to the issue in a way that allows both McFarlane and Holguin’s script and Crain’s layouts to shine.
The writers have a firm grasp on natural sounding dialogue, though — at times — it’s almost a little too natural, as irrelevant character lines about spelling errors and little league games border on the mundane. This line isn’t crossed, though, as these discussions quickly move on to more relevant topics, giving the narrative a punchy kind of progression. It’s especially effective in defining the character who really takes center stage for the issue: foreign correspondent Cassandra Hale, whose feelings both towards her profession and its spectators are convincingly told by way of the character’s lengthy but thought-provoking lecture to a hometown high school audience. It almost reads like a statement on the state of the news media and how it plays to the often inflexible beliefs of its consumers, although — this early in the story — it also could just set the stage for the exploration of the series’ presumed central figure.
Crain has a very pleasant and unique style that’s akin to an abstract painting; its beauty can’t be appreciated by scrutinizing it too closely. Instead, it shines when enjoyed from a broader view, like an old movie that looks better on a traditional television screen rather than sitting up close to a modern HDTV. Crain’s diffused, almost smudgy look is employed in many backgrounds and general scenery shots, balanced with more precision in other areas like facial expressions. His paintings of an open Kansas landscape, replete with cloudy and darkened skies, give the sense of an approaching storm — an insinuation that could be literal, figurative or both.
A standout artistic moment in the issue is Crain’s outstanding usage of the sequential art format to deliver a cinematic style surprise: an exclamation of “Watch out!” on the final panel of the previous page gives way to a genuinely shocking moment that could be conveyed no other way than Crain’s beautifully effective double page spread. The aftermath continues for several pages afterward, and this is where McFarlane and Holguin back off and let Crain tell the part of the story that can only be expressed through pictures. The scene then introduces — or, actually, reintroduces — the main character, bookending the opening scene of the issue and establishing enough of a cliffhanger to sell the next issue.
“Savior” #1 provides great art, great characterization and a unique enough twist on the millennia-old notion of a character who can seemingly perform miracles. The synergy between the writers and the artist is not only based on their collaboration but also on allowing one part of the team to let loose when appropriate, which all involved do confidently.