Review time! with <i>Silver</i> volume 1

"Stick them in a casket next to mine, then we will see who is alive"

I don't love reviewing comics that I know won't finish in that particular volume, and Silver is one of those, but I figure if I review the first volume and then the entire thing, that's not bad, so I'll probably skip volume 2, which was recently solicited in Previews. Usually, it's the subsequent volumes that are more difficult to review, because they're continuing a story, and at least with first volumes, you can get a sense of what's going on.

Stephan Franck, who wrote and drew this, gives us a lot of information in this volume, so that's handy. Silver is published by Dark Planet Comics (which means it's self-published), and it costs a handy $12.99, which ain't bad for three longer-than-standard issues and a good amount of back matter.

Franck has a very cool high concept - he places the book in 1931, and in his world, the characters in Bram Stoker's Dracula actually existed, but the general population has no idea that vampires exist. So in the beginning, everyone just thinks of Jonathan Harker, who has just died, as an old, wealthy gentleman who has been "reunited" with his dead wife, Mina. It's a neat concept, because even though we the readers know what to expect, when the main character, James Finnigan, discovers that vampires are real, there's a very cool sense of dread on his part as his worldview falls apart. He finds Harker's journal (it's been a while since I read Dracula, but presumably it's exactly what we find in that text), so when he discovers vampires are real, he accepts it fairly readily, but it's still fun to see how he reacts when he does discover they're real. It's a clever conceit, and Franck does a good job with it.

Franck introduces Finnigan in the first chapter with a long heist sequence - this is, in fact, a heist comic, so I'm kind of pre-disposed to like it.

Finnigan breaks into an auction of Jonathan Harker's silver collection as his "final job" (we always know how well those go), and as he tries to escape the FBI, he finds a basement in which Harker stashed his journal and a large bar of silver. When he gets out and meets his compatriots, he finds out that in the escape, the key to his safe deposit box was lost, so he can't access all the money he and his cronies have stored over the years. His two partners are understandably angry, but Finnigan uses the journal and the silver bar to figure out that there's a giant treasure waiting for them if they can find it. Harker wrote it all down in his journal, so Finnigan proposes that they steal it. Of course, it's not going to be easy, as the castle in which the silver is stored happens to be filled with vampires. So Finnigan finds a granddaughter of Abraham van Helsing, Rosalind Sledge, who of course is a vampire hunter. She joins the team, and they're off!

There's not a ton of subtlety in the story, but that's fine. Franck wants to tell a heist story, and the added bonus of vampires is a good twist, especially given that they're so mysterious. He builds everything well, from the very elaborate heist/chase of the first chapter, the introduction of Rosalind and her vampire-hunting ways in the second chapter, and the explanation of the heist and the preparation for transit in the third.

In Chapter One, he introduces the FBI agent who, I imagine, will be a thorn in Finnigan's side (the last time we see him in this section of the whole is when he finds Finnigan's safe deposit box key and knows what it is) and a young Chinese boy who can, it appears, see the future, which is awfully handy. Finnigan recruits him later as a wild card, and Franck puts a few others on the team who might as well have "expendable" stamped on their foreheads. Finnigan has to be convinced of the existence of vampires, and then everyone else does, too, and it's clever how Franck handles that. While the book doesn't pretend to be anything other than a horror-tinged heist comic, Franck makes it quite an exciting horror-tinged heist comic, which is always nice.

Franck's art is also part of what makes the book good, as it's terrific. He has a beautiful, angular style that he softens at perfect moments (early on, the woman who introduces the auction is a wonderfully smooth person in a sea of sharp edges), and he never over-hatches, using lines very well to add just enough nuance - Myrick, the FBI agent, is a fat slob, and Franck hatches his face and clothing sparingly but just enough to make him look shabby, especially in contrast to Finnigan's suave elegance. He goes for some amazing splash pages to open up the storytelling at crucial moments, including a great sequence when he flashes back to Harker's travails in Dracula's castle and the "secret origin" of the silver they're going to steal.

He uses nice angles throughout to change points of view and either shrink or expand the characters in relation to the surroundings. Early on, Finnigan enters Harker's study, and Franck shows it from high up, diminishing him and making a painting of Mina tower over him, as if to bring her presence into the room. There's a lot of pages like this, but Franck also excels at simply telling the story - the first chapter, as I noted, is a long chase scene, and we get a really good idea of how big Harker's house is and where Finnigan has to go to escape, even as he detours into the basement. When he heads to rural Pennsylvania to find Rosalind, Franck does a good job with the sparse, snow-filled landscape, making it a nice contrast to the claustrophobia of New York and also allowing him to draw a battle between Rosalind and the vampires without worrying about cluttering up the backgrounds. He uses big chunks of black beautifully, which allows him to drop holding lines in some crucial places, and he adds a Zip-A-Tone effect to add just enough grays so that the book isn't too stark. He talks about his process a bit at the back of the book, and it's very neat - there's a wonderful page that evokes a wonderful Romantic feel, and Franck writes about turning the folds of a long, formal dress into stormy skies, which is a great image. The biggest problem with the art is that both Finnigan's gear in the first chapter and Rosalind's outfit in the second look a bit anachronistic for 1931. Finnigan's "heist clothing" looks too modern, and Rosalind is wearing a tank top and cargo pants, which are probably smart for when you're fighting vampires, but again look a bit too modern. Franck wants her to be an unconventional woman for the time period, which is fine, but I'm not even sure those kinds of clothing existed in those days of yore. It's a minor thing, but it still bugged me.

Silver is a clever comic, one that doesn't try to be more than it is but works very well as that, so why should it? It looks great, it moves along at a nice clip, and it promises a better, more complicated, and (presumably) bloody heist in future volumes than the one we get in this one, which is very well staged in its own right. The second volume was recently solicited, and I guess there will be four volumes total when it's all said and done? This is certainly a good start!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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