Writers: Justin Gray/Jimmy Palmiotti
Artists: . Juan Santacruz (p), Francis Portela (i)
Publisher: DC Wildstorm
With the amount of work that I do and the sheer number of comics that I read on a regular basis, it is actually quite rare that I can sit down with consecutive issues of any series and read it in this manner. Furthermore, I do not generally buy the trade collections, instead reading and purchasing the single installments. Nevertheless, I always find it a rare treat when I get the opportunity to sample a run of a single title in one sitting. In preparing for this piece, I dug into the catacombs of my collection and retrieved The Resistance #1-4.
Now, as some of you may recall, SBC’s own Brandon Thomas and I did a thorough breakdown and analysis of the first issue of this series when it premiered and while we were generally optimistic about it, we had some criticism about overt sexuality and overuse of language. I can say that, as expected, this series reads much better in ‘chunks’ rather than in the monthly magazine format. The ‘zines are cheaper, but this series is a testament to the fundamental changes in storytelling in this modern era, a change that is not ideally suited for the ‘zine format, and more tailored and suited for the hopeful and eventual collections. What I’m getting as is that while it reads nicely enough in monthly installments, it coalesces into something nearing brilliance when compiled and read as a complete work.
The Resistance is a story of a dystopian future. The main definition of this dystopia seems to stem around controlled population, though there are other more horrific facets revealed and likely more to come. ‘The Resistance’ is a band of underground Freedom Fighters led by a very charismatic young man, code-named Surge. He is ably supported by FTP, Version Mary and Tommy (as well as other mercenaries, however thus far we are treated mainly to these four). The perspective is that of Brian Sturm (codenamed, now, Brainstorm). He is an unauthorized birth (classified ‘Strayz’) and had been in hiding with his grandfather, until his grandfather’s heart attack prompted him to seek medical help at a nearby hospital. This very, very bad idea led to his grandfather’s ‘capture’ and Brian’s involvement with The Resistance.
The cast is rounded out with Joe, a member of the GCC (Global Control Commission), his driven attorney wife and his headstrong partner. This storyline has been running largely parallel to the main story, and I won’t go into the details of the relations between these three individuals because these are some of the most disturbing and surprising aspects of the series, and I look forward to it’s inevitable collision with the main plotlines, which begins to happen as issue four wraps. Add to this the slowly unfolding mystery of how this future world works and peeks into the governing forces and we have a fully realized world that is getting richer and more fleshed out by the issue.
The writers have really outdone themselves here, creating something so unique and unexpected for the WildStorm line that it almost deserves some sort of trade dress distinction, in case casual shoppers are going to assume it’s a part of the quagmire that is WS continuity. Palmiotti is a seasoned comics professional, though newer to the arena of scripting, while Justin Gray is a complete newcomer to the field. And yet, though Palmiotti has shown some grit as a writer on such projects as Beautiful Killer, this project has to stand as some of the strongest work of his career and one of a pair of projects that are quickly adding Gray’s name to an A-List of writers with true imagination. The wordiness of the first issue has really been toned down as the writers are getting more and more comfortable with the language. And while it still doesn’t read one hundred percent true as conversation, there is still some excessive speechifying, it is improving in leaps and bounds. Perhaps the writers just felt the need to lay down all that text as foundation for their world and story and now that they’re actually telling the story it isn’t as necessary. Whatever the reason it makes for a smoother and more enjoyable read.
Of course, one of the greatest strengths of any comic book has to be the artistic team. Juan Santacruz on pencils and Francis Portela on inks (not to mention the rich color palette of Paul Mounts) have given birth to the tapestry of this world. From double-page spreads of the garish cityscape; rife with nightclubs, strip joints and neon; to the haunting images of a more familiar world just beneath the ocean depths, Santacruz has established a very real foundation on which these characters can develop. He uses a style of art that is more fluid, rejecting the cross-hatching technique of the past decade for a more internationally influenced ‘less is more’ approach. His line work is softer, more rounded and conveys a real confidence in his strokes. The result is a cast of characters that is instantly recognizable and uniquely distinct from one another. Surge is one of the most visually interesting characters I’ve ever laid eyes upon, and all of this without an obnoxious or flashy costume. Just facial features and expression.
While we all laud the facial expressions of Preacher/The Punisher artist Steve Dillon, one thing Santacruz has on him is visual diversity. Let’s face it, everyone that Dillon draws looks very similar. Santacruz has managed cultural diversity through design, and his strengths in this area help to capture the ragtag nature of this group of people that in other circumstances (I.E. our world) would have no real reason for hanging out together.
The last thing I want to comment on, because it is the strongest aspect of the new series and I want to leave you with that, is the design of the covers. Too few companies and creative teams pay attention to the look of their books. Thus, most comics are designed one like the other and there is nothing of them that leaps from the racks and demands to be noticed. The fragmented cover layout, each with a variety of images of the characters and their world sprinkled liberally with the title logo throughout the page creates a unique collage of imagery. The title logo is not 1/3 the size of the page. It is simple and unobtrusive, and yet through it’s repetition in and around the images it is just as noticed as it needs to be.
The images themselves, are each in a different artistic style, from simple line work, to black-and-white charcoal imagery to photomosaic to fully-painted. Either Santacruz is an artistic genius or there is a team of artists that collaborate to achieve this affect, but whatever the madness behind it, the result is a visually stunning piece that captures each individual issue, creating a distinct feeling of controlled chaos (a feeling that the plotline conveys as well). After the first issue, the fragmentation increased, with random little blocks breaking up or distorting the imagery. In fact, the decision to fragment the normally static block around the WildStorm logo and even behind the UPC Code have completed the package. Now, every aspect of the cover has been incorporated into the design scheme.
Noticed how I went on a bit about the covers? This is because more often than not this is the ONLY thing a casual fan will see of a book as they scan the racks at the comics shop. If the cover can convey something that captures their imagination for a fraction of a moment, you just might get them to pick it up and take a closer look. From there, the artist on the interiors has to maintain that attraction to create a buyer and ultimately the whole package must inspire a reader. But it all begins with a cover, and The Resistance has created one of the most visually arresting and distinctive cover designs on the racks, sure to stand out from its peers. Kudos, in fact, to WildStorm for their cover designs on books like this one, Wildcats Version 3.0, Automatic Kafka and even Palmiotti/Gray’s other project 21 Down. All of these books have actually put effort into the design of their covers and the work has paid off.
The bottom line is that The Resistance is shaping up to possibly be one of the most fully conceived sci-fi worlds ever created, and if the creators get the chance to finish this project, at their own discretion, then it has the chance to stand among the giants of graphic literature. Science fiction is a rarity in comics. A story that is concocted with a beginning, a middle and an end is no rarity anymore, but for that story to actually be allowed enough issues to tell the story at the intended pace of the authors is rare indeed. Too often compelling stories like this are cut short by lack of reader interest or publisher support and the creators either have too cobble together a half-assed attempt at a resolution, or in more cases than not just leave things hanging. I hope that WildStorm and DC give this book a chance to find an audience, and my suggestion for doing so would be to put out trade collections as soon as there are enough issues to warrant them. This is a graphic novel being serialized for our pleasure. And just like the classics that saw serialization in magazines and newspapers in centuries gone by only to be later collected as the great novels we study, so should the serialized graphic novels of our day be compiled into those permanent collections. Besides, this one just reads better that way.
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