Review time! with <i>Old Wounds</i> #1

"They will bury your empty coffin, they will raise for you a stone, they will know you fell in glory in the corner of some lonely foreign field"

Old Wounds is the latest comic from Pop! Goes the Icon, which Pj Perez runs like a mofo. It's by Russell Lissau and John Bivens, with letters by Josh Southall, and it costs $2.99. It should be in stores this Wednesday, although it does appear my particular store isn't getting it. So sad. They'll get it eventually, I reckon.

Lissau and Bivens have worked together before for Perez, using some of the same characters, so I'm not sure how long this story has been germinating. Bivens, of course, is currently drawing Dark Engine for Image, so this is an interesting comic to see, as it's in the same vein, stylistically, as that is, but it's on a completely different subject matter.

Lissau gives us a set-up issue, which is perfectly fine, as there's enough action in it that we get a bit distracted by the fact that it's a set-up issue. Two policemen knock on the door of Michael Lane's house and inform him that his ex-wife, Lori, died the night before when her house exploded. The first we notice about Lane is that he walks with a cane, which, naturally, is fairly important. After the cops leave, we learn his secret: he was once a costumed vigilante called the Night Hunter, and his wife fought beside him as Miss Fury (Tarpé Mills wants her royalty check from the Great Beyond!). Michael, of course, instantly thinks that someone is after them, which is pretty much confirmed later on in the comic. So we have a story in motion - ex-"superheroes" are being stalked. By whom? Why? Of course, you'll have to come back to find out!

Plot-wise, the comic is perfectly fine. I've written before that I love reading comics about costumed vigilantes and superheroes when they're not actually doing vigilante and superhero stuff, so this is right up my alley. Michael explains to the police why he's not married to Lori anymore - he had an accident (which we don't see in the flashbacks he has throughout the book yet), and afterward he started drinking and became unpleasant to be around. Lissau not-so-subtly implies that the loss of the thrill he experienced while vigilanteing at least played a part in the break-up - he lies to his former sidekick about not thinking too much about the "old life," and it's a common trope in superhero fiction that fighting bad guys is good for the sex life. Whether Lissau will explore that at all is to be seen, but he does a decent job with it here (as I noted, it's not exactly subtle, but he doesn't bash us over the head with it, either). Michael dominates the comic, so the fact that Lissau seems to have a good handle on his world-weary personality is a good thing.

Michael is somewhat typical stone-faced vigilante in the Bruce Wayne mold, but Lissau shows us just enough to make him more sympathetic - we can believe that he still loves his ex-wife and that her death affects him deeply. So while we get a nice set-up, the fact that Michael is a tortured soul makes it more likely we'll care what happens to him.

I've been a fan of Bivens's since I saw his art in Omega Comics Presents, Perez's anthology series, and I'm glad he's getting higher-profile work at Image, but I do have some issues with his work on Dark Engine. I don't know if it's the fantasy setting or even the coloring, but it's occasionally difficult to read. He seems more comfortable with noir stuff like this book, where his thick lines and liberal use of grayscales, black chunks, and Zip-A-Tone fit the tone better. He makes Michael look beaten up, as a retired vigilante probably would look, even though he doesn't sport obvious bruises. What I mean is that Michael looks lived-in - he doesn't comb his hair very well (if at all), he shaves haphazardly, he has wrinkles, a flat face, and a dented nose. Bivens draws him as if he's perpetually squinting, his thin eyes getting lost under his protruding brow and in his wide face. Even when he gets dressed, he looks shabby, as if he's just given up. Lissau gives him dialogue that makes him sound world-weary, but Bivens brings it home really well. He does a nice job with the other characters, too: the cops - Hess and King - aren't in the issue too much, but Bivens makes them suitably rumpled, while Michael's sidekick, Jack, has lost an arm and sports a horrifying scar on one side of his face. Bivens shows us the toll this kind of lifestyle can have on people, and while it's also not subtle, it's effective.

Meanwhile, he does a nice job making the flashbacks look oddly retro - I mean, it's not like Michael was fighting crime in the 1940s (he and Lori were active at least in 1986 and 1987, but it's not clear when they retired), but Bivens adds just enough slight touches to evoke an even earlier and more nostalgic time period, from Michael's fedora to Lori's fishnets and Mary Janes. He's not bad at action, and so the flashes work pretty well, and it's interesting that they seem a bit cleaner than the present-day art. Bivens uses thick, ragged blacks and Zip-A-Tone in the present day, but in the flashbacks, whether because they're memories or because Michael considers them "better," he uses the same thick lines, but with stronger, more solid inks and even more white spaces. It's a nifty contrast.

Old Wounds doesn't break any new ground so far, but that's okay. Murder mysteries involving superheroes have a long and pretty good history, and I'm always curious to read them, more for what the creators have to say about the genre more than who ends up being the killer. I appreciate a clever story, of course, but it's also a good way to examine the consequences of the actions of these characters. Lissau and Bivens are off to a good start, so you might want to find this sucker on Wednesday and give it a look. As always, I'd like to thank Pj for sending this to me. I appreciate it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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