ADVANCE REVIEW! Spontaneous #2 will come out on July 13, 2011.
Just one of the many beautiful things about comics is that by their very nature they allow for the kinds of big ideas that just aren’t always fiscally possible in film. Coming from Oni Press, Joe Harris and Brett Weldele’s Spontaneous is technically an indie, both in regards to its release and its storytelling techniques, but when it comes to concept and special effects it’s a blockbuster. Because in comics, blockbusters aren’t limited to the majors, in fact they’re quite often most successful when they’re divorced from the endless sequeldom that is modern Big Two storytelling. And as blockbusters go, Spontaneous is a doozy.
In case you missed Issue #1 on Free Comic Book Day and are just now tuning in via the regular release, Spontaneous is the story of a boy named Melvin, who is a private investigator of sorts. But Melvin’s focus isn’t spouses straying away from the obligations of marriage or poor saps attempting to cheat disability– no, Melvin’s focus is “burners,” or victims of spontaneous human combustion.
The first issue is a rather brilliant introduction to the concept and Melvin, presenting the idea without allowing it to overstay its welcome, instead using it as dressing for the real meat of the story, which is Melvin’s attempts to deal with his father’s combustion-based death by investigating the causes of that phenomena. The exposition we’re all so used to in these kinds of things even has a point and a tether, it coming naturally through dialogue between Melvin and the sidekick/agitator he never asked for, Emily Durshmiller, an “investigative reporter at large,” according to her business card, at least.
Better still, Joe Harris’ partner-in-crime is the peerless Brett Weldele, whose scratchy expressionist style feels perfectly at home in a story about people bursting into flames. Weldele showed a talent for this kind of story when he was working with Nathan Edmondson on The Light but there’s something more natural and organic about his pairing with Harris. It could be that Harris keeps the combustion scenes tight and focused whereas in The Light the light explosions were often drawn out and sprawling; the effect here is one of tension and awe rather than horror and skiddishness.
By Issue Two, the combustions are kept strictly to flashback and we’re treated to a glimpse at more of Melvin’s past and also given a potential explanation for the “burners.” Throughout the issue, Weldele imbues certain panels with intense blots of light that threaten their surroundings, reminding us of the narrative stakes and the overall threat. It’s a trick in a lot of ways, teasing you with the promise of the book’s title on one hand and invoking a kind of menace that doesn’t come in the form you expect it to. Like music in a horror film, Weldele’s coloring trick puts readers on edge, distracting them from what’s really coming.
Harris and Weldele are smart to infuse the book with the twist they give here, which conveniently disposes of some of the potential problems the book may have had if the creators had chosen to pursue a more fantastic route. Issue #2 even makes great use of Emily, who had previously threatened to be a prop rather than a character. This time around she’s as annoying as before but does some genuinely smart reporting and arrives at a conclusion Melvin himself may never have gotten around to.
That element is a clear sign of the character-driven storytelling Harris and Weldele have taken from indie filmmaking, proving that blockbuster ideas work best when they aren’t dumb or shallow. All that’s left is for you to go take your dollars to your retailer of choice and make the moneymaking aspect of the blockbuster genre come true for Harris and Weldele as well.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.