How far would you go to truly understand the mistakes you’ve made, and how much danger would you put yourself in to do so? That’s one of the central themes of Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge and Thomas Mauer’s Crude, a new debut from Image Comics partner studio Skybound. Described by Orlando as somewhat of a spiritual sequel to his Jamaican queer revenge story Virgil, Crude is about a young Russian man searching for a greater purpose in life no matter the cost — until it isn’t, and the book takes a sharp turn into an entirely different kind of revenge story.
Orlando himself spent a decade living in Russia and his experience with the culture shines through, especially with the initial lead character of Kiril, a young bisexual man living in a small town with even smaller ideas of what kind of future men like him have in the world.
Choosing to risk everything by moving to the notoriously dangerous mining town of Blackstone to escape a predictable life, Crude deftly conveys a universal experience through a very specific set of circumstances. Kiril doesn’t want to grow up to be like his father Piotr, a man whom he believed to be an insurance salesman, and risked everything in order to escape from his shadow.
One of the main criticisms of millennials as a generation is that we don’t want to float through life content with the same unsatisfied careers as our parents and Kiril embodies that idea, cast against the harsh and unforgiving backdrop of a cold and forgotten Russian city where he would have no future.
His father on the other hand, who hid his secret life as an assassin, only ever wanted his son to be safe but by not being honest with him, he drove his son into life-threatening danger. Garry Brown and Lee Loughridge excel when contrasting Kiril and Piotr side-by-side; Kiril’s face is clean, unblemished and the light always catches it just right, while Piotr is scarred by the years of his lies and always seems to be somewhat in shadow.
Brown’s inking is a real standout in this first issue and the heavier its use on a character’s face, the more guilt the character is currently experiencing; naturally, Pitor is soaked in heavy blacks throughout the issue. A nine-panel grid of Piotr slowly learning the worst while the same four words repeat in his head over-and-over is one of the most striking scenes of the book, and this is a comic where a man rips out another man’s jugular with his teeth.
Crude is an impressive debut issue about the lies told and the secrets kept between fathers and sons and how each generation is affected and broken down by their own twisted ideas of what it means to be a man. While marketed as a revenge story, Piotr’s journey to learn who is son truly was no doubt to continue to explore these themes of toxic masculinity and the futility of committing yourself to outdated and misinformed ideas in order to prove your worth to the world.