By Will Holden
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: André Lima Araújo
Colours: Chris O’Halloran
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
There are some comic book stories that let you know what kind of book you’re getting into from the very first issue, you’ll know that this is a crime story or a sci-fi or a super hero and with that comes certain expectations. Then there are comics which give you just the slightest of clues, a nudge and a wink towards what you can expect in the following pages and issues.
A Righteous Thirst For Vengeance is of the latter category. Issue #1 begins with a the seemingly normal life of a yet unnamed man living in the China Town district of Vancouver, Canada, trying to make his way somewhere by bus for reasons unknown. He is shown to be a pretty normal person, not a caricature of either positive or ill intent. We see him letting an elderly couple onto the bus before him when it is crashing down with rain, we also see him walk into another person while visiting a shop and, at first, exploding into anger but quickly catching himself and helping the man pick up his shopping. This three dimensional-ness of character is quite refreshing in the comics landscape as often characters are simply one or the other: good guy/ bad guy. Here we see a character who does good and bad things frequently and yet we are not invited to judge or pigeonhole him.
There’s a scene in the first issue where the man comes across a teenage boy at a bus stop who is lamenting over a mortally injured bird twitching at the side of the street. The boy knows the bird is done for and the merciful thing would be to quickly end the creature’s suffering, but he can’t do it, worried he could make it worse by not getting it right. The boy thinks outload, questioning why he should feel responsible for this bird’s suffering, why it has fallen on his shoulders to commit the deed. As a cat owner (daddy) I have had similar thoughts running through my mind while I try to decide what the right thing to do is about some poor beast which my little monster has brought me as a gift. The scene is a brief moment, but I feel like it comments on the developing themes of the book and will seem very pertinent when we look back from later issues.
Also in this issue we see the man reach his mysterious destination in search of a woman but the reasons for this excursion remains an enigma, just small hints of sex traffickers perhaps hinting at the wider themes. What he finds there, however, is the turning point for the issue and the feeling that there is an extremely sinister undercurrent begins to rise (as if you hadn’t guessed things would get messy from the title). The small, clearly expensive house, sitting solitarily in the woods, is the sight of a horrific crime scene, the two occupants having been brutally tortured and murdered. Again, why this has happened is yet to be established but the reveal in this part of the issue is a real blood-pumper. The atmosphere of the book changes from quiet yet intriguing slice-of-life to terrifying and grievous violence. What’s more interesting is the man’s reaction. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t delighted with what he’s found but he doesn’t seem hugely surprised either and has the wherewithal to clear his fingerprints off everything he touched before scarpering, leaving behind a single bloody footprint which will no doubt come back to bite him later down the line.
The art and colouring provided expertly by Andre Lima Araujo and Chris O’Halloran, creates a sense of realness without every straying into that uncanny valley look that comic art can fall into when trying too hard to mimic a photoreal human face. Some of the early Star Wars comics from Marvel had this when trying to capture Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher’s likeness. This work, however, looks and feels like a breathing world with genuine people living in it. There is also a great deal of visual storytelling, and periods with very little or no dialogue at all.
I think that there are two main things that comics books can do that other “rival” media either cannot do or cannot do nearly as effectively. The first is the ability to create fantastical worlds, creatures, spaceships, etcetera, with a relatively small budget and personnel, yet these worlds remain believable and fantastic on the page. In order to achieve this level of immersion on film demands a huge stack of cash and hundreds of people working on it. The second thing I think comics can do which other literary mediums (that’s right, Books, I’m taking a swing!) cannot is to tell its story through its visuals, allowing the art to indicate emotion, actions and generally to move the plot from one beat to the next. This book excels in that second aspect. The visual storytelling also lends to the continued mystery of the book as scenes and images are shown with little context and no narrator explaining precisely what is going on. I very much enjoyed this as it kept me truly guessing what will come next. I’m really looking forward to the next issue.
I’m going to begin a new scoring system when it relates to single issues, due the fact that I don’t think you can judge a series based on a single issue. This will be a trinary system made up of “Avoid”, “Give It A Chance” and “Highly Recommended”. I think they speak for themselves.
Rating: Highly Recommended