One more book from Western Australia! You know you want to read it!
Before I left for San Diego, Andrew Constant, the writer of Torn, told me to come by the Gestalt booth and he'd give me a copy of his book. That was mighty swell of him, even though I was planning on stopping by the booth anyway (they were very cool in 2010, so why wouldn't I go back?). Torn is drawn mostly by Joh James, with a prologue by Nicola Scott and some art by Emily K. Smith (the credits list all three as "artists," but Smith's name is slightly smaller, so I have no idea what she did on the book) and letters by Nathan Martella. It costs a mere $12.95.
As I've mentioned before, if I'm going to enjoy a story with a standard horror trope, the writer ought to find something different about that horror trope.
That, at least, is interesting, and it keeps my attention while I can figure out if the rest of the work is decent. Constant finds a nice hook - this isn't a werewolf story, it's the story of a wolf who becomes a man. Immediately, that's interesting. But will it hold up????
In the prologue, we see how the wold ends up like this. He's stalking a guy who killed his family, and when he bites the guy, he somehow turns into a man - the bad dude is apparently a werewolf, and I guess the curse works in reverse! The new man has no idea what's going on, and he flees (naked, mind you) into a city, where he gets caught up in some drama. A girl named Sarah finds him in an alley, and he protects her when she's attacked by her ex-boyfriend and his two brothers. Our hero rescues her and she helps him hide out in a run-down house. When the three dudes show up dead later on, the cops get involved. But did our hero kill them? Well, no. It seems there's another wolf running around town. Oh dear.
Constant never lets us catch our breath, really, which isn't a bad thing. The wolf/man and Sarah have a few nice moments, but generally we're zipping breakneck through the plot, and as it's an interesting plot, there's nothing wrong with that. The man/wolf tries to learn the ways of humans, and he even manages to learn some words, but he remains lupine throughout, which is a nice trick. He's fiercely protective of Sarah, and it's interesting because Constant makes Sarah someone who, while she doesn't deserve the fate her ex-boyfriend had planned for her, isn't really all that admirable. She's naturally suspicious of our hero in the beginning of the book, but unlike so many romance works we've seen in the past, she doesn't come around and fall in love with him - in fact, as she learns more about him, she becomes more suspicious of him. She doesn't necessarily need him to protect her, either - the bad wolf in the story comes after her and is far larger than she is, so she gets beaten up a bit, but she also shows how tough she is when she fights back.
Her character and her interaction with the wolf/man make the book a lot more interesting, because it doesn't play out the way we expect. Constant manages to take this cliché and stand it on its head, too.
The conflict between the wolf/man and the evil wolf is the crux of the story, naturally, and of course the two are linked in some way (which I won't reveal). The cops, of course, think that our hero is the killer, but we know it's the evil wolf, who remains a wolf even as he talks and thinks like a man (how? that's something else I won't reveal). The cops are even interesting characters when they don't have to be - the younger one, Rick, is a hothead, and putting him on this case, with such horrible violence done to the victims (even if they were scum), is not a good idea. It's refreshing that Constant doesn't simply follow what's expected from these characters - he thinks about how they would react as characters to a certain situation, and not how they'd react because the plot machinations demand it. Yes, the book is a horror comic with a bunch of action, especially when our hero fights his nemesis. But Constant still manages to examine the way men act toward each other and how that differs from wolves (or, to extend the analogy, predatory animals in general) and whether we're any better. The final few pages are a bit heavy-handed, but I think Constant has earned them, so I'll let it go.
James's art is frenetic and busy and reminds me a lot of Duncan Fregedo's (which is a compliment, in case you're wondering). He packs each page with a lot of visual information, and occasionally he doesn't quite pull it off and the page becomes too cluttered, but for the most part, he's easy to follow and the work is nice to look at. Sometimes, honestly, the clutter works, because the scenes are so visceral that James's close-in pencil work makes us feel like we're right in the middle of the action, and it's a nice sensation. James uses a lot of black, especially when he's drawing the evil wolf, so that it looks far more demonic than if it were just a normal wolf (and, in fact, it is something "more than wolf," so it's not surprising).
While our hero is a bit more "perfect" in design than regular folk (he's ripped and has that long, flowing, black hair - he's like Ian Astbury on steroids), Sarah, Rick, and Joe (his partner) are nicely done - they look like real people who've led hard lives, and Sarah, especially (as she's in the book more) is a nice character. She's pretty but not beautiful, and James is adept at showing how much rage flows beneath her surface and how tough she can be when pushed. His nature scenes are gorgeous, too - wild and threatening, but also pristine and majestic. Because James gives us so much on each page, it's easy to stop and decode his panels, so the fact that they sometimes get crowded doesn't mean it's easy to give up on them. On every page there's something that makes you want to stop and look at it more closely, and it's nice that James helps slow down Constant's pace, because it makes the book a more rewarding read and even more tense, as the two, even while working together, push against each other and create a nice opposition.
Constant shows that he has a nice handle on creating characters and writing an exciting comic, while James does a wonderful job illustrating it. Torn is a different kind of horror comic, and while that might be good enough, it's also a written and drawn really well, so it has even more going for it. I'd like to thank Constant again for giving it to me, and I encourage you to go out and find it!