Who loves European comics? You do, yes you do! Don't deny it!
I might be stereotyping here, but it seems like European comics are designed to be finite stories, even when they're serialized (as this was), so the creators can be a bit more daring when it comes to storytelling.
(I know that several European comics continue to be published for decades, but those seem to be the exception rather than the rule. As always when I stereotype, feel free to contradict me!) Sergio Bleda's The Wednesday Conspiracy (published by Dark Horse in conjunction with SAF Comics, priced at $19.99 for 150 pages) is such an animal, as while it's not a superhero comic, it has several superhero-ish tropes and could easily be, say, an X-Men story. There's a kind mentor who gathers a bunch of freaks, in other words. But because Bleda is telling a complete and finite story, he can totally mess with our expectations, meaning he can kill characters indiscriminately. I know that slaughter doesn't necessarily make a book good, but because we're aware that absolutely no one is safe, Bleda's interesting story takes on an urgency that we just don't find in an American superhero comic.
The story itself is fairly straightforward horror. Dr. Richard Burton, a psychiatrist in a West Coast city named San Judas (man, did they make a big mistake naming a city that!), has started a support group for people with special and weird abilities. Akiko, the new girl in the group, can speak to her dead parents in her bathroom mirror and reveals some other abilities as the book goes on.
Roger is telepathic. Violet carries a jar full of demons around with her. Joe is an exorcist. Brian is pyrotechnic. And Charles, a rich boy who attends the group, appears to be able to channel spirits, but it's a bit unclear. Meanwhile, a patient of Dr. Burton's tells him that a group called the "Sect of the Cross" is following him, and not too long after that, he commits suicide after killing his roommate. It's all very odd!
It's not surprising that the Sect of the Cross is real, and it's not surprising that people in Dr. Burton's group start dying. The sect has a grand scheme to seize power, and there's all sorts of mystical stuff going on, so it's not as if Bleda comes up with that original a story. But he tells it very well - there's a real sense of menace as the sect goes after the members of Dr. Burton's group (why do they? we don't know!!!! - at first) and Bleda keeps ratcheting up the tension with regard to the plot, so the book is an exciting read. There's not a ton of characterization - Violet has the most secrets, but that's not the same thing, and her secrets are part of what the book hinges upon - but Bleda gives us enough to make us worry about the people involved. This is a pure adventure/horror book, so while there's nods to the characters, Bleda is much more concerned with the machinations of the plot. But that doesn't mean it's not fun to read.
Bleda's art is beautiful, and helps the book immensely. He has a herky-jerky style, with angular figures who have long limbs and severe faces. His pencil work is very detailed, and the art has a bit of a Moon/Bá style to it.
Bleda's watercolors are wonderful, making the book lusher and more realistic, which allows the supernatural parts stand out even more (there's a beautiful transformation of a bird into a man that's colored softer than the rest of the book, adding to the mystical nature of it). Bleda does a superb job with the gory parts of the book, making them extremely visceral and terrifying. While his story barrels along, his precise art helps add to that sense of horror that the story builds.
Good art and solid storytelling that pulls no punches can often overcome vanilla characters and a timeworn plot, and that's what happens in The Wednesday Conspiracy. I don't mind the unoriginality of the plot because Bleda is so relentless telling the story and the book looks so good. It's an exciting, scary comic that grabs you and doesn't let you go. There's certainly something to be said for that!
Tomorrow: One of the best new series of the year!