Christopher Sebela and Robert Wilson IV bring the heat in “Heartthrob” #1. Their protagonist, Callie, gets a new lease on life when her heart transplant comes through, but her recovery is complicated by the ghost of her heart donor. Sebela writes a believably frustrated, confused protagonist who only knows what she doesn’t want, and Wilson’s bold artwork captures all the characters’ highs and lows. “Heartthrob” #1 marries a straightforward arc to thorny emotions, creating a first issue that’s as confident as it is intimate.
Callie narrates heavily in “Heartthrob.” For the most part, this is one of the story’s strengths. She refuses to be a plucky survivor; instead, the years of illness give her a more nihilistic strength. When she says things like, “I get that [life is] a gift, jackass. What I need is someone to tell me what the f*ck I do with it,” Sebela shows her weariness without giving into the tiresome superiority that sometimes underlies nihilist characters. Callie feels like she’s beyond caring, but not because she doesn’t want to. She’s tired and beaten, but there’s a sneaky zest for life hiding under her defeat. As she begins to free herself from her old life, it’s all the more satisfying to see these hints of fire become full-fledged.
However, her narration can slow the story at times. Much of her narration is about her backstory, from growing up in hospitals to giving herself over to boyfriends. Information like this certainly contributes to the reader’s knowledge of Callie, but it occasionally feels like too much show-and-tell. Backstory is most useful for what it can reveal about a character, but Callie’s present-day narration is already so intimate that the backstory sometimes feels repetitive.
As for the artwork, Wilson’s dark, solid lines are perfect for the extremes here. So much of Callie’s story is about the body, and Wilson’s work brings that home, from Callie’s lined face and bulging eyes when she recovers from surgery to her vicious smile and sweaty forehead when she punches her ex in the face. Seeing these details captured so boldly and clearly is quite striking; Wilson really lets Callie’s years of illness and recovery show. However, it’s not all anger and pain. Wilson’s confident, graphic style is also so well-suited to the heist at the end of the book, and it got me excited to see Callie and Mercer’s crime career in coming issues.
Colorist Nick Filardi captures the ’70s setting without going full retro. The reds have just a touch more orange in them, while the browns and greens have just a bit more yellow. His environmental palettes are also quite effective. With the narration so caught up in Callie’s head, it’s smart for the atmosphere to reflect her emotional state. The pink-reds in the bar switch neatly from romantic to rage-filled, and the washed-out colors in the flashback scenes feel numb rather than nostalgic.
All told, “Heartthrob” #1 pulls the reader right in. The cliffhanger actually feels engaging and earned, and Callie is a fascinating protagonist. I’m so, so curious for what issue #2 will bring.