Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Yes, here’s another review of a book that will be on the stands today! Okay, just the first issue will be, but you know what I mean!
Hey, remember a few months ago, when I reviewed Top Cow’s First Look and almost accidentally broke the Internet? Yeah, good times. Well, included in that collection was the first issue of Echoes, a five-issue mini-series by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal, with letters by Troy Peteri. Top Cow publishes this, of course, and their marketing assistant was nice enough to send me .pdfs of the entire mini-series. Thanks, Ms. Dinh!
I really enjoyed the first issue of Echoes, and I was happy to see the quality continue throughout the series. Fialkov introduces us to Brian Cohn, who’s visiting his father in the hospital. His father is stricken with Alzheimer’s, so he doesn’t even know that Brian is there, and right before he dies (yes, his father dies early on), he starts babbling about dead girls and an address. Brian isn’t sure what to make of this, but when he visits the house, he discovers a large pile of bones and a box inside of which are small dolls made from flesh. Yeah, that ain’t pretty. Oh, and Brian has schizophrenia, something he inherited from his father. So there’s that.
Fialkov does a tremendous job in the first issue building tension as Brian moves throughout the house and into the basement. It’s a horrible scene, but it’s very effective. Brian, of course, doesn’t know what to do with his new knowledge – he doesn’t immediately go to the cops, which we know is a huge mistake. While he’s making his discoveries, he begins to imagine things, and even though he knows it’s because of a “chemical reaction” in his brain, he still can’t escape his hallucinations. He begins to hear his father talking to him, telling him that he’s just like him and he should indulge his darker desires. He makes another mistake by stopping by a school and watching a girl swinging for just a moment. This brings him to the attention of the police – aides are required to write down the license plate of any car that stops near a school for more than a few seconds. The cop who visits his house, Robert Neville, seems friendly enough, but he also tells Brian that the girl he was watching has disappeared. Oh dear. We and Brian know that the cop is suspicious, but Brian didn’t have anything to do with her disappearance. Right?
The story unspools very nicely, with Fialkov giving us bits and pieces of information that continue to point to Brian as a murderer. He, of course, thinks he’s going crazy, and the hallucinations start to pile up, as he starts seeing as well as hearing his dead father, plus a lot of girls sewn up like the doll he found. It’s fascinating that Fialkov can walk such a nice tightrope – we’re pretty sure that Brian isn’t a killer, and Brian himself keeps reminding himself that his hallucinations are a result of the schizophrenia and isn’t really the ghost of his father. Neville, the cop, keeps showing up and seems to be giving Brian chances to come clean, but Brian, of course, can’t come clean – he didn’t do anything! And so the game continues!
The story is a very nice horror/mystery story, and Fialkov does an excellent job making sure it all makes sense. Some people can probably figure the whole thing out, but that’s not how I read stuff, so I was impressed with the way everything resolved itself. This is as much a story about a son coming to grips with his relationship with his father and trying to deal with his sickness as it is a murder mystery, and Fialkov is quite good at showing us how Brian could believe that he’s a killer even though the reader can’t really believe it. He adds another layer by giving Brian a pregnant wife – she doesn’t have much to do, but the fact that she’s going to give birth to a son makes Brian even more anxious about discovering the truth about his father, because not only is he afraid that his son might be schizophrenic, but now the killing is weighing on his head. Brian wants to be a good father, and just when he’s about to actually have a son, he’s confronted with the fact that his father was someone evil. It adds a great deal of poignancy to the story.
Ekedal is tremendous, as well. I’ve only seen his work on another Fialkov mini-series, The Cleaners, and while it was decent enough there, it’s much better here. The black and white helps tremendously, as the entire book seems a bit more morally murky because of the lack of color. Ekedal does a marvelous job shading the figures, so when Brian goes into the house and discovers the box in issue #1, we don’t see his face fully lit very often, adding power to the hell into which he’s descending. When he starts hallucinating, Ekedal shades the eyes of his father so that he looks indistinct, and the girls that follow Brian around are terrifying, stitched-up and dead-eyed, with flesh dripping off of them. He has a softer line than in The Cleaners – it doesn’t look as if the lines are inked – which can be a detriment on colored books, but in black and white often works well, and the softer line makes the book look more “realistic,” which helps the horror parts stand out a bit more. It’s really amazing art, and I hope Ekedal does more stuff in this style.
I really can’t recommend Echoes enough. Fialkov has written some really good stuff in the past, and this stands right with it, and Ekedal’s work is amazing. I know some people are trade-waiters (I’m getting this in trade when it comes out, after all), but however you buy your comics, you should give this a look. It’s an early contender for best mini-series of 2011! Yes, I’m already looking ahead to next year’s “best-of” even though I haven’t done one for this year yet!!!!!
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