Monday, April 11, 2011

Green Wake #1

Image's latest foray into the surreal, Green Wake, provides yet another chance for the versatile publisher to showcase its flexibility. The mini-series, a murder mystery set in a Silent Hill-styled purgatory for hopeless spirits, is horror in a more subdued manner than, say, The Walking Dead or Hellblazer. Its lofty aspirations seem to be of a cloudy, atmosphere-dominated tangle in the same vein as David Lynch's Twin Peaks, but its methods of execution leave a lot to be desired.

Our writer, Kurtis Wiebe, for example, seems to delight in being vague. He'll open a doorway wide, then smugly refuse to step through. In carefully limited doses, this technique can be a powerful method to personally involving readers in the storytelling. After all, which is scarier: the monster you see in living, breathing color or the one you'll catch a glimpse of with peripheral vision, a peek so fleeting your imagination is left to fill in the gaps? Overuse of this method, however, is a quick and dirty recipe for frustration and abandonment. If you refuse to reveal a thing, eventually the audience is just going to lose interest in what's behind the curtain altogether. Wiebe's concept, of a world where lost souls go to slog for eternity, is fertile soil, but he's so reluctant to tell us anything at all that it leaves the impression that he hasn't quite figured it out himself. That lack of elaboration also robs the cast of any dash of personality and, consequently, approachability. We're along for a ride through the gray void with a small cluster of cold, expressionless specters.

Riley Rossmo's artwork is a different beast altogether. Rossmo, who's quickly becoming one of Image's hottest talents following prolonged runs on the kooky Proof and Cowboy Ninja Viking, works a captivating style that's equal parts old school, new school and boarding school. His chaotic, loose linework is unbalanced and sharp-edged, like a series of quick gesture drawings freed from the confines of a favored sketchbook. An exuberant, overwhelming dose of benday dots adds depth and structure in unexpected spaces, creatively applied in a similar fashion to James O'Barr's work with The Crow decades back. For the final touch, he sprays the page with a blotchy, often bleakly monochromatic, dash of rough painted color a'la Ben Templesmith. It's at once stripped down, complicated, impersonal and intensely intimate; utterly unmistakable. Like many of the best unconventional artists, his work is curious enough to inspire a much closer look regardless of the accompanying material, which is certainly the case with Green Wake.

Rossmo's work carries the book. While Wiebe is doing his best to add pseudo-suspense via a series of open-ended questions and a distinct lack of elaboration, Riley is off on his own, populating the world with shady characters, haunting landscapes, coal-spoiled skies and leaky pipes. It even appears that, at times, the writer actually realizes the inessential nature of his presence, as he drops completely out of the picture and lets the artwork stroll around on its own for several pages. It's as close as Green Wake ever gets to any degree of enlightenment.

Wiebe and Rossmo's alcohol-soaked venture into the crusty fringes of consciousness is, ultimately, little more than a depressing picture book. It's not quite as complicated, nor as engaging, as it seems to think it is, with a distinct lack of a strong hook leaving the whole experience quite shallow. An adventurous premise and strong establishing shot may deliver readers an early taste of promise, but for the rest of the issue we're sleepwalking through the story just like the city of Green Wake's entire population. Flip through it for the artwork.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3

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