Orange is the new black

Publisher: Image
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Jacob Phillips

Newburn is fiction that plays around with preconceived perceptions. This book has tackled different facets of the criminal world so perhaps it was natural that it would also tackle that aspect that is prison. Yet it was still a surprise to see Newburn behind bars. As usual there’s more to this than meets the eye but there’s a heck of a lot of tension in the meantime because as someone who has put a lot of people behind bars Newburn is at risk when he’s in there with them. The main body of this issue seems to be dealing with that but all is not quite as it appears.

I mean there had to be a twist to this, right?

We don’t really see Emily until near the end of the issue and her journal entry, which explains much of what is going on, appears more than half way through. That means we’re without a great deal of insider knowledge for much of this issue. That’s an interesting place to be since knowledge and the power of it is rather important this issue. It’s kind of a theme.

I should really mention the setup. We open with a whole bunch of prisoners playing cards. A guard alerts one them, Salvatore (call me Sal) to the fact he has a new bunkmate. I suspected it had to be Newburn, given the cover shows him in those classic prison oranges. Still it’s a bit of a shock when we find Newburn (call me Easton – really?) to be in a cell for murder. Of course he says he is innocent but what’s interesting is: do we the reader believe him? We’ve seen him do some shady stuff but we’ve also seen he’s dogged in pursuit of the truth and well known for ruffling fathers. Do we think Newburn could commit murder? Do we believe him when he says he didn’t?

It sort of highlights how little we know of Newburn and how much we rely on Emily for insight into the former cop turned PI for organised crime. You would have thought we’d get some solid insight into Newburn but weirdly we don’t find out that much beyond what we already knew. That he can defend himself, and he knows a lot of secrets and information. What we do learn is how he deploys all those skills in a different setting, one where he is surrounded by men who want to kill hm.

His only ally is Sal, a man who understands where Newburn is coming from, who understands knowledge and power. Sal is interesting and we do get to know him. He seems different to the other prisoners from the off. He wears glasses and doesn’t seem to be very physical. What he does have is influence, knowledge, favours and power. So you’d think this is someone who would be a good friend to have. It seems that he and Newburn have a very strong rapport. But all is not all as it seems of course.

I don’t want to spoil anything more but the interactions between them are something a bit different. There’s a strange mutual understanding and respect that turns into something different. The revelations later give another dimension to their earlier moments. It’s interesting to see Newburn interact with someone who is potentially an ally who is not Emily. It’s also different to see him come up against some real threats. There are threats in the outside world but when he’s outnumbered several to one with men who want to kill him and there’s no way to escape? That’s new.

What isn’t new is how strong the art is. One aspect I really loved was the bright red background in several key panels. For example the panel where Newburn tells Sal he he didn’t do it is striking. Bright red background and Newburn in profile proclaiming his innocence. Those bright red panels are scattered throughout the rest of the book. They give a real visual punch to key moments, key dramatic elements. The fact it’s used sparingly only makes it harder when it is used.

There are also some great panels showing the realities of prison. There’s one of Sal, white background with bars in the foreground which in the context of what is going on at the moment is a great way to emphasise prison and being trapped. There are several panels just showing the cells, with a single bit of speech. The prison is large, the cells unforgiving and the art certainly reflects that.

There’s also a lot of work been put into the prisoners as well. There’s quite a crowd of them and they are all individuals. This is conveyed both in detail and also in the background characters as well. It gives a real feeling that Newburn is surrounded by a variety of threatening types. The prison feels full and with simmering tension because you can see all these different characters and their various interests in the art itself.

There’s some really good close-ups of Newburn’s face that really tell us more about him than anything else. We can see a healed cut, his eyes that are following other prisoners but more than that the emotion he seems to have lurking underneath. It’s quite a dark ending but we really get into Newburn’s headspace in a way we haven’t necessarily before this. He comes out of this issue as a bit hanged and we can see that too when he talks to Emily. There is a lot that has happened there, a lot going on and there seems to have been a change, even if Newburn won’t admit it.

So yes this is surprisingly solid issue. There’s a different setting here and this is a case unlike anything Newburn has done before but that’s good. We get a real insight into Newburn as a person through the writing and art. In that regard it is successful. And it underlines the fact that Newburn is only useful for so long. He does need to watch his luck as perhaps one day it will run out. In the meantime there’s enough here to make both the readers and Newburn think.

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