Ever since the "new 52 thing" happened a couple of years ago I felt a bit squeezed out of reading the superhero titles which I used to enjoy. It just wasn’t a good transition for me and as things progressed I moved further and further away from DC and Marvel until the only superhero comic books I was reading were Hawkeye and Daredevil. But no matter how disenfranchised I felt, I have always been drawn to the concept of superheroes and I was still jonesing for some super powered action, so I went to the comic shop just to see what was out there about superheroes from different publishers...
Suicide Risk begins with the basic premise that people can buy superpowers from illicit dealers, like buying a drug which gives develop powers. In the very first issue there are hints that this isn’t random and the kind of powers people are getting has something to do with who they are, or even who they were in a different reality or planet... So Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande skillfully sketch a world much like our own, but pepper it with dealers of superpowers and with people whose powers make them doubt their own identity. Were these people aliens, or are they from a parallel universe? Are the powers predetermined? Were they ever human and were those human lives ever real? The first 22 page issue raises a lot of questions about reality, it is lot of exciting information to pack into a first issue and a rare thing to also make it coherent and engaging in such a limited space. As you can imagine, things develop at quite a pace over the next 5 issues, and it makes the first trade paperback (collecting the first 6 issues of Suicide Risk) feel like great value.
Carey and Casagrande are giving us a comic book which packs in information and action into every single issue, something which has become almost an anomaly in an era when many comic books take a more sedate pace and write for larger collected editions, only eking out information gradually. It is a a style which I appreciate, as it tends to push the writing and the art to work hard, but it requires a very specific story telling skill set which (luckily) Carey and Casagrande have in spades.
Mike Carey is one of those comic book writers who seems to be able to harness what makes mythology and folklore function in a very incongruous, contemporary setting. My last great immersion into his work is with his work on the DC/Vertigo series Lucifer, where Carey plucked the Gaiman-created protagonist from the pages of the Sandman for his own long-running series. It’s been a long time since Lucifer ended and while I dabbled in the odd book by Carey, I was a little too burned out on ye olde magik to get truly invested in books like Unwritten, despite an interesting premise.
It wasn’t until I stumbled on Suicide Risk that I properly embraced Carey’s writing once more. Although he’s worked on superheroes a fair amount, I’ve managed to miss him in that arena until now and I'd assumed that he was more attuned to fantasy genre. I was wrong. His talent is there as always, but in veering away from the magical / theological and taking a turn into the world of superheroes and science fiction he proves that his writing is an excellent fit for the genre.
The art has a gently aggressive feel to it, (a sort of power with combined with grace). Casagrande’s electric layouts and sweeping lines really move the story along beautifully. Her ability to convey expressions and movements gives the story a gritty personality. Each person (whether super powered or not) is clearly delineated, with their own posture and character. With his coloring Andrew Elder significantly impacts the art, creating depth with subtle textures and delineating lines of tension and space, using a chalky color palette to keep the story firmly grounded.
We've established that between the covers Suicide Risk is a great comic book, but I have to admit that what grabbed me initially when I saw the book in the shop was the graphic design; the title treatment on the cover and the single-color and layout on the inside front cover. The bold, clean design attracted my attention and gave me an idea of what the story would feel like, that’s an effective design (something Boom! Studios are doing with more and more of their books). It was fun to try out a new superhero book without knowing what it would be like, taking a risk and having it pay off is a rarity that I appreciated and I realized that there are a lot of great superheroes to read about if I'm willing to look outside of corporately-owned properties.