The Middle Ground #57 | When things look <i>this</i> good...

For those who thought that Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker was the best-looking superhero comic of the year - and if you didn't at least consider the possibility, it's probably because you haven't picked up a copy yet - I should let you know: Mike Huddleston's work in the new Top Shelf graphic novel The Homeland Directive is possibly even better.

I'd been looking forward to Homeland since reading the solicit a few months ago; I'd really enjoyed the writer, Robert Venditti's Surrogates comics, and the idea of him keeping going with the thriller genre outside of such a science fiction setting (Homeland is more mainstream thriller with political - and medical - overtones) was a particularly enticing one. What I didn't expect, though, was that it would look so good. Don't get me wrong, I've liked Huddleston's work from what little I'd seen of it before, but if this book doesn't get him nominated for all manner of awards, there really is no justice in the comic book award world (Feel free to continue reading when you've all finished laughing).

Huddleston's work sings in this book, takes in the influences and styles and looks from all over the place like a magpie and ties them all together into something that, as Steve Jobs would say, just works. You can see Bill Sienkiewicz in places, Darwyn Cooke in others, and it's all tied together with the more linear, familiar style I'm used to from earlier Huddleston works... but with a new (to me, at least) boldness in terms of color and texture (similar to Kristian Donaldson's work from Supermarket with Brian Wood, if anyone besides me remembers that) and - and perhaps I'm reading into this just a little - what might be shout outs in terms of blur and tone to Venditti's Surrogates partner, Brett Weldele, in places. Which is to say, it looks very good indeed.

It makes for an interesting read, because Huddleston switches color palettes, styles and even media so often that it should be far more distracting than it actually is. There's a fine line between being a virtuoso and showing off, and Huddleston dances right up to the brink here, but never goes over - everything hangs together, with visual shifts references those in the story, and Venditti's writing ends up being served showcased, instead of upstaged, by the art (I haven't said too much about the writing, intentionally, but it's strong, with a worryingly plausible hook that will, if you're paranoid, stick with you for a long time afterwards).

Finishing the book, my first thought was actually that I can't believe that DC didn't try and grab Huddleston or Venditti for their big relaunch. It's pointless, of course; they're both better off doing this kind of work, their own creations and their own interests. But if you want to see genre work done exceptionally well, in contemporary settings for modern audiences, it's unlikely you'll find a book that looks as good as The Homeland Directive this year. Sometimes a little style goes a long, long way.

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