You can tell this series takes place in Russia, because it uses the letter “k” to replace the “c” in the title. That, along with other kind-of-embarrassing faux-Russian cliches — a few of the characters speak like they’re channeling Chris Claremont’s Colossus, circa 1984, complete with the use of “tovarisch” instead of “comrade” — make this comic a bit silly. It’s a horror story that’s set inside a comic book universe, only it doesn’t seem to know it. Joe Harris plays it straight, but his characters are cartoonish to a fault.
And this is no knock against the great-looking art, because Steve Rolston and Dean Trippe make this comic worth reading just for the slick visuals. But I’ll get back to their work in a minute.
Let’s take an important American character from the first issue. Will Haley, who works for the U.S. Department of Defense, is not the protagonist. No, that seems to be Anya Romanova, Russian operative and investigator, even though we don’t get much more than a few cursory moments with her here. Haley’s a scientist, a weapons inspector, sent to Western Siberia to “catalogue and secure biological and chemical weapons materials.” He finds out that this “Dosvidanya Projekt” he’s sort of stumbled upon has led to strange rashes and mysterious deaths. And he cries out, “You ain’t even gonna tell me what it means? Dos-vi-danya…”
“It means Good-Bye,” says agent Romanova.
Maybe Joe Harris is making a comment about the ignorance of Americans, but surely an emissary from the Department of Defense sent to Russia would know at least one word, and that one would would be “Dosvidanya” which is in every spy movie, every faux-Russian cliche-ridden piece of narrative ever launched upon American eyeballs and eardrums.
But, no. He doesn’t know it. And that kind of simplistic ignorance and hollowness — seemingly just to allow another character to explain what the word means to a presumably ignorant reader — gives this first issue its lack of substance.
Yet, it looks wonderful. Rolston gives each character a strong physical presence, and unique facial features that imbue them with a personality that doesn’t come across in their dialogue. His clean-line style makes for an unorthodox look for a horror comic — which is what this comic seems to be — but its an effective one. And Trippe colors Rolston the way Dave Stewart colors Darwyn Cooke — elegant, yet bold. Vivid and evocative. The colors set the mood, and allow us to feel the scene changes, and yet they’re never overbearing. They don’t call attention to themselves, except in contrast to the garish coloring that tends to appear in mainstream comics more often than not.
The mystery at the center of this story isn’t bad at all. And there’s a genuine creepiness to the forbidden experiments and haunting presence — and that damned cat — at the Dosvidanya Projekt. The narrative’s a bit underdeveloped, and the characters are a bit shallow right now, but there’s hope. Because even if it continues to skim the surface of its own story, at least it will look nice along the way.