Though not as quite as strong as its fantastic opening issue, Jay Farber, Scott Godlewski and Ron Riley’s “Copperhead” #2 is still impressive as Sheriff Bronson begins to deal with the aftermath of the murder of the Sewell family as well as a violent incident with her son. In the grand tradition of any good detective story there are a lot of layers and some great characters already established to explore them.
Farber and Godlewski have blended genres — western, space and detective — to wonderful effect in “Copperhead” and they’ve twisted each of the familiar tropes they employ just enough to make them interesting without feeling like they’re trying too hard, or bending them beyond recognition. Bronson is a great lead, a fish somewhat out of water but in charge and slightly overcompensating to shut down any threats to her position. She works wonderfully as a lead. Though the single mother and child in danger trope is one very played out, Farber balances it well so that it feels real and genuinely suspenseful without tipping over into melodrama. At the same time he contrasts Missus Sewell’s loss of (possibly) her entire family nicely with Bronson’s concern for her only family. Deputy Boo provides some good dry comic relief and solid conflict to the Sheriff/Deputy partnership as well as the character with the necessary exposition information, though Farber doles that out in blissfully small and subtle doses. The introduction of Ishmael is unexpected and adds a welcome layer to an already complex and varied tapestry. This issue doesn’t do much to advance the actual detective work as it deals with other aspects of the story and that’s perhaps the only issue with an otherwise excellent execution throughout.
Farber and Godlewski are a good team, as evidenced by a lot of choices they make, but perhaps especially because Farber doesn’t feel the need to overwrite, instead letting Godlewski take the wheel entirely when pictures are simply more powerful than words. A violent three-page gun battle is almost without words and perhaps the best page in the entire book is a wordless page several pages later that shows the aftermath of the battle. A bloody shoe, a dropped “glow stick,” a discarded gun, these things speak volumes and are in fact all the more powerful for their silence. And when contrasted with a big nine panel double page spread that takes place in a bar and is filled with chatter it shows both creators working wonderfully in sync. Godlewski really excels at creating a believable world and one that helps the overall world building immensely so that Farber doesn’t have to over-narrate. The cast is populated by a variety of characters that give the book a feeling of depth and diversity that’s exciting. Overall, Godlewski’s storytelling is effortless and his emotions and body language are right on point.
Ron Riley’s colors are a rich and smart palette overall, but really excel when it comes to how he deals with light. There are a lot of night scenes ripe for exploration, most are tinged with an expected (and well executed) blue, but a few are tinged with a sickly green thanks to an unusual light source. The green light really adds a great layer of tension to those pages. Riley is also not afraid of black and uses it both liberally and to excellent effect throughout the issue.
Farber, Godlewski and Riley’s “Copperhead” is a total delight. It’s a dark horse I never saw coming that mixes the best elements of westerns and space stories effortlessly with its classic detective tale.