“Thumbprint” #2 by Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramelia and Vic Malhotra reveal more of Mallory Grennan’s activities at Abu Ghraib, and this second trip into memory lane may be a clue to the identity of the person behind the thumbprint notes.
“Thumbprint” #1 introduced readers to Mallory Grennan’s crimes. Mallory is unable to forget and understand what happened out there, especially without the relief of being judged by a moral authority. If “Thumbprint” #1 is about the crime, “Thumbprint” #2 is about consequences, which foreshadows the third interconnected theme of punishment.
Mallory has not been punished by a military court. She punishes herself, but not directly or in a way that satisfies her, and it is difficult for her or anyone else to determine how much culpability she has. It’s obvious to the reader that Mallory hasn’t let herself off the hook, and neither do the people in her hometown. Since “Thumbprint” is a horror story, it’s almost certain that problems with integration into civilian life will not be Mallory’s ultimate punishment.
What Hill and Ciaramelia do in “Thumbprint” is a standard path for horror tales, taking a fundamental human fear — in this case, retribution — and blowing it up to a mythic scale to better expose how universal that fear is. What is daring and unusual about “Thumbprint” is its choice of the narrator and the crime. Mallory is a seriously flawed protagonist, but Hill, Ciaramelia and Malhotra make her sympathetic without softening her actions. Even though Mallory is neither virtuous or kind even in the present-day, her self-awareness is the key element that gives the reader something to connect with and invest in. It was also risky for Hill to take the risk of choosing military-sponsored torture as the crime. It’s a politically charged subject and with all torture scenes, there’s a risk of sensationalizing the power play and thus trivializing the crime, suffering and degradation. Thankfully, the entire creative team takes the subject seriously.
Malhotra’s art in “Thumbprint” #2 deliberately repeats motifs from “Thumbprint” #1. Once again, there’s a bloodied body thrown out of a moving car. There’s another thumbprint note, leading to another scene of Mallory with her gun. Also, “Thumbprint” #2 ends on the same ominous note of someone spying on Mallory, only yards away from her, with his or her back to the reader. This circularity reinforces the suspense and also the themes of the past, guilt and not being to escape.
“Thumbprint” #2 builds on the foundation of “Thumbprint” #1 instead of adding much action or characterization. It focuses almost exclusively on maintaining atmosphere and suspense. This serves the intended length of a short-story miniseries and it succeeds in producing a closed-world, claustrophobic feeling. It will leave readers impatient for the next and last issue, when Mallory will probably uncover the identity of her tormentor and give readers the conclusion to her confession.