Arash Amel, Marguerite Bennett and Antonio Fuso’s “Butterfly” #1 is an intriguing premise with a strong execution. However, some complex moments that lack clarity prevent it being a home run.
Bennett, scripting a story by Amel, hits the ground running, which is great, since she’s only got four issues to deliver an obviously-complex tale. It dives back and forth in time and brings two stories together: one of a daughter that thought she’d forever lost her father, and one of a father that thought he’d forever lost a daughter.
There’s a beautiful and restrained poetry to Bennett’s words, and they serve the book well, especially in the opening introduction of the protagonist and how she views the world. However, there are many layers at work in this complex story of spies, love and loss; and at times, that restraint gets in its own way. This is a comic best read twice to fully understand the plot. While not necessarily bad, with some additional revision for story clarity, “Butterfly” #1 could be a book understood on the first read and perhaps more deeply loved on a second pass. I’m all for layers and further examination revealing deeper meanings, but basic story clarity should still be a priority the first time through.
Though the concept is cool and the restrained writing feels like the right fit for the characters and story, the concept is a bit complex for such a sparse approach. For example, during an op, Butterfly’s moves are well explained visually with a few words to make intent clear. However, she ends up dropping off a baby in what we’ve been led to believe is an empty hotel room she’s purchased, except there is someone in the shower, someone who will apparently take care of the baby that she leaves there. That’s a leap that is in no way explained. It’s just left to assumption and for an otherwise tight and well-crafted story, making it impossible not to feel confused.
Similarly, Fuso’s art, a lovely restrained graphic style that’s a bit reminiscent of early Sean Phillips, is a good fit stylistically, but could use with some clarity in places. Fuso excels when it comes to pacing a scene and his layout in Butterfly’s sections — which are almost entirely six panel grids — are tense and smart. Fuso takes great care in some of the fine details, like the changing of Butterfly’s look, a crowded subway, and a quiet snowy hillside, all hit their mark to good effect. Butterfly herself is mostly expressionless by design and so her wide-eyed shock at the end marks a wonderful contrast.
At the same time, the pages with Butterfly’s father’s story feels less precise and a little bit rushed by comparison. They lack the poetry and deliberate poise and pacing of Butterfly’s pages, and while it draws a nice comparison between the two characters one is so much stronger than the other that it ends up feeling uneven. Adam Guzowski’s colors are a subdued and comfortable palette, appropriate for the “real life” style everyone is working in. The colors don’t draw attention to themselves but feel organic and tonally in sync with the concept. The brightest bit of color is actually a flash of red in the opening, a perfect fit for both Fuso’s illustration and Bennett’s words. Those first two pages are the strongest of the entire book on every level, packing by far the most emotional punch. They speak volumes about the potential in this creative team.
“Butterfly” #1 is a strong opening and well worth a read, but a few small decisions hold it back from being a truly exceptional first issue, especially in a field already peppered with smart spy stories.