Jason Aaron and Ron Garney’s “Men of Wrath” #1 is a strong debut. It trades heavily on tropes readers have seen before — in this case, the lonely dying old man badass/hit man, the screw up son and the disturbing boss behind the scenes. But there’s an emotional component here that lands powerfully and levels up aspects readers may have seen before. Perhaps the emotional punch works so well because Aaron begins the story in the past, anchoring it nicely from a historical context. It also might be because the story is rooted in some version of a personal “true story,” or perhaps it’s just because Aaron is so capable in the way he lays out the pieces.
Regardless, it all feels very scary, very real and very dangerous — all good traits for a debut comic. The book has some extremely dark moments that most comics wouldn’t (or can’t) have. Some readers will find one bit particularly gratuitous, even though it’s not gory. However, for the arc of the forthcoming story, I think it’s probably necessary from a character standpoint.
Garney’s art is complex and intriguing and looks unlike most of his superhero work, as it should. From a tone and mood standpoint, it feels right on point. Our protagonist is appropriately gritty and weathered, and Garney really excels at showing his life in the lines of Mr. Rath’s face. And though he’s not an expressive man, Garney makes the most of Rath’s body language to convey emotion. Perhaps the best moments in the book are the dramatic pages in which Rath kills a family that Garney contrasts nicely with an otherwise lovely country landscape. It starts out looking like a grim setting but by the end, despite events, it looks like a beautiful day for a picnic. There are some fun visual treats in the book, like a character robbing a convenience store in a Hawkeye mask (and kudos to whichever creator came up with that bit). There are a few visual missteps, most notably some of the shading choices in a night scene in Rath’s kitchen that yanks readers out of the flow of the work — but on the whole, it’s really excellent work.
Matt Milla’s colors are fantastic, especially in their contrast between the present day and past. Milla’s past is softer and more atmospheric, capturing well the location — wide open dry farmland that is at once both idyllic and oppressive; while his present day scenes are somehow both brighter and darker, sharper and more modern feeling. Milla does great work with light contrasting nicely his interior and exterior scenes as well as his day and night. Garney’s strongest scene is also Milla’s most impressive color work with respect to evoking mood and scene. The scene begins in a depressing muddy river wasteland of sorts in the dim pre-dawn hours. It’s harsh looking, but as the scene progresses the sun comes up and reveals a bright, beautiful and idyllic day, a stark contrast to the actual events.
“Men of Wrath” is a strong start to Jason Aaron and Ron Garney’s first creator-owned effort together and a smart choice for the Marvel Icon line — a debut issue with a dark edge and an ending that defies you to ignore the next issue.