‘Bete-Noir’ issue 1.
Written by Andrew Clemson with Art by Kris Wantowhy (aka KRISWANTOWHY).
Lettering by HdE.
Edited by Matthew Hardy.
Variant Cover by Sachi Ediriweera and Dan Lee.
Published by Mad Robot Comics.
£5 – Full Colour – 28 pages.
The Story – ‘A caped vigilante returns from the dead to exact vengeance. But is he still the man he once was, or something altogether … different?’ (Well that doesn’t give much away at all!?)
The Cover – I have the regular cover and so far haven’t seen the variant. It’s not on the website as far as I can see. I am genuinely in two minds about the construction/design of the cover image. It does give a symbolic foreshadowing of what you’ll get inside. It shows both the ‘hero’ and ‘the villain’ and has personality attributed to both. However, I’ve seen this approach numerous times and it comes off as a little obvious. It’s also one that is too dark and isn’t immediately eye-catching when on a ComiXology style storefront that’s awash with too many small thumbnail images. Had I not been sent it for review I may have easily scanned past it.
Collins Dictionary defines bête-noir as – ‘If you refer to someone or something as your bete noire, you mean that you have a particular dislike for them or that they annoy you a great deal.‘
The Review – This is a difficult one to dig into from a narrative point of view as there is a lot to spoil. I’ll try my best not to do that. The title itself gives a small pointer as to the direction it may take – especially if you understand what ‘Bete-Noir’ means – (please see above). From seeing the cover I guessed that this may be a comic that either features a hero and a villain with equal screen time or features a villain more heavily. It actually does both during the issue.
Without giving too much away I can say that the first issue leads you down one country lane before surprising you and pushes you through a fence onto another path. I’ll remain tight lipped otherwise.
What I can say is that it has some great (and bloody) action scenes and breaks down the hero-myth with some post modern narrative tweaks. Then by concentrating on one character before the switch you do get a good sense of who he is and what he might be trying to obtain. But my main problem is that this happens so slowly with a decompression in storytelling that even Tom King would tut-tut at. As an example I would quote the first four pages that contain the following – the hero waking up, looking at a photo, having a shower, and thinking about getting dressed (did someone shout ‘Parklife’). In a comic with only 24 sequential pages this is too much and moves everything at a glacial pace. At one point a character passes out and comes to and this takes the whole two pages. It also makes for a very quick read.
At this pace I personally would hope that issue 2 follows quickly on the heels of issue one. It’s also a £5 book so I’d also want more of a reading experience for my money.
The art is solid and readable. I can’t speak as to how well Kris Wantowhy differentiates faces and people at this point as there are very few actual actors in this first outing. He does imbue the ‘hero’/vigilante dude with that feel of being a little older and overweight. A man returning to this life and a little world-weary and that was something I did enjoy in both the writing and the art. Wantowhy Doessowell (sic) when showing us the evening and night does work the colour palette and shadows with some skill. There’s that nicely done Mazzucchelli moonlight through the bedroom blinds moment in the opening sequence that gives a ‘Year One’ Gordon/Noir vibe (with added mobile phone).
I feel like if this was the opening to a longer form offering, say as a graphic novel or webcomic I would enjoy it more. (I also didn’t have to pay £5 so there is that I suppose.) This feels like a good opener for a much bigger story. It has a couple of intelligent moments in structure but ultimately doesn’t create a big enough meal that I would expect from an issue and especially not from a first issue. I would most certainly consider buying this in trade when the run is collected. The art and writing work – it’s just that they take far too long in doing what they need to do. But, het, that’s what a lot of modern ‘written for the trade’ series do to us and our wallets.
And there’s a great robot in the last half of the comic!
See! A review that still didn’t spoil the story…..
You can find a copy of this and other comics over at the Mad Robot Store here.
You can follow Andrew Clemson on Twitter here and find out more about his projects here.
IFYOUWANTO you can follow KRISWANTOWHY on Twitter here and have a look at more of his artwork here.
Many thanks for reading.