SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Whispers #1A comic review article by: Nick Hanover, Danny Djeljosevic
Nick: As Whispers begins, it's immediately clear that a Josh Luna work is not the same thing as a Luna Brothers work. As one half of one of comics' most formidable duos, Josh Luna's career has been inseparable from that of his brothers' and over the course of a decade they've created a body of work that is immediately identifiable and beholden to a certain kind of philosophy, particularly in their trilogy of creator owned works for Image. From Ultra to Girls to The Sword, the Luna Brothers have fixated on genre traditions, using the clichés of those niches to subvert expectations. Ultra was their romantic dramedy, Girls their sci-fi/horror piece and The Sword their centuries' spanning fantasy epic. All of those titles played with gender norms and had strong female characters in the center, but right from its first pages,Whispers isn't quite as easy to classify. Featuring an OCD afflicted young man named Sam as its protagonist, Whispers appears in its debut to be about a withdrawn, shy character attempting to gain some control over his life through the power of his dreams. That in itself makes it stand out from the Luna Bros. canon, but Josh Luna also notably shies away from the impeccably rendered animation-like art that he and his brother have become known for in their past works and adopts a looser, pencil style that's more Mark Bagley than Disney.
Danny: For me the art was the biggest surprise of Whispers. I expected more of that pseudo-anime style (for lack of a better term) that the Luna Brothers were known for. On his own, it looks like Josh Luna's using a style that imagines Phil Noto going hyperreal. The detail and storytelling in this debut issue is amazing, and makes the supernatural (?) stuff in this story palpable where another style would make it seem whimsical.
As for the what that art's in service to -- even the story of Whispers couldn't be further from the Lunas' previous work, but I'm finding it hits close to home -- not because I'm an OCD (I'm not) or terrible at human communication (that I am), but, I dunno, something about a guy who can't function in society but can fully understand the thoughts of others when he's completely physically divorced from them rings true. "Mind of a writer" kind of thing, I guess.
Nick: I think you've really hit on something there. Despite having a very specific condition, there's something about Sam's personality and mindset that is extremely easy to sympathize with and relate to. The belief that if we could just read the thoughts of others, we'd be better at communicating and helping one another is something I'm sure a lot of us can get behind. I imagine that as the story progresses, Sam will begin witnessing some of the nastiness of the human condition as well, which is at least what the sneak peek at next issue's cover seems to confirm (though those monsters could potentially be more literal). Right now, Sam thinks that he's been given a way of fixing a lot of the issues in his life and knowing the disastrous consequences that typically befall the characters in Luna Bros.' stories, that's likely something Josh Luna will be breaking down and I'm more than a little curious to see how he does it.
That said, I do feel like there were some elements in Whispers that need work, particularly the dialogue. The scene in the cafe with Sam, his ex and her friends came across as extremely forced and unnatural. Rico in particular felt less like a human character and more like a cardboard cutout bully for Sam to butt heads with. Granted, this was one minor scene in the story that didn't leave a tremendous amount of room for character development, but I briefly felt like I was watching a CW series rather than reading a comic from one of the most talented creators working in comics today.
Danny: You can already kind of see Whispers get optioned for TV and turn into a shitty CW riff on Donald P. Bellisario riff or Early Edition, where every week our hero tries to influence the thoughts of this week's guest star to make the story turn out okay. But the fact that Sam can only visit people he already knows is what keeps it from venturing into that kind of recursive story engine format. I'm really excited to see what darkness Sam encounters, what stuff he finds out about his friends, loved ones and acquaintances that he can't un-find out.
The dialogue is decidedly comic book, where every word balloon overtly describes and explains and the semblance of human beings interacting on the page is just enough for a reader to allow it. Which is sending my mind on a huge tangent on the nature of dialogue that I'll have to nip in the bud in order to get anything done today.
More than the dialogue, I'm trying to wrap my head around the structure of the thing -- Sam comes in and brings up what will end up being the high concept of the series and everyone thinks he's an asshole, and then he starts exploring his abilities? It's like a tell-then-show situation and I already believe Sam from the beginning, which is maybe my problem as a comic book reader. Beyond criticizing the decision, I want to figure out why, and it's all coming down to the examining of the door handle that frames our first impression of the story. That expression of his ludicrous awareness of the risks of even touching a door seems to characterize his interactions. He clearly can barely deal with the people in his life, but now he can inspect them from afar, looking for any germs he can affect. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets psychically infected somehow.
Nick: I'm glad you bring up the possibility of psychic infection because I am curious to learn more about why Sam feels so much more comfortable in the dream realm. You'd think his discomfort would show up, even if it isn't as crippling as it is in real life. Instead, he seems to become a different person when he's an apparition -- more driven, more capable of implementing change. So I think the psychic infection idea is indeed something we will see come into play, where Sam's confidence is shaken by the realization that the irrational fears he has in the real world are far more real in the dream state.
If Josh Luna goes in that direction, I think we'll be rewarded with a fascinating comic about the meaning of fear and human connection, which is surprisingly little covered ground in pop comics, at least on this intimate of a level. This is a great start but I believe that the midpoint, where the various elements Josh Luna puts into play start to coalesce, will be where things get extremely interesting and that's what I'm waiting for. But that doesn't stop me from highly recommending this first issue to readers, particularly those who have yet to jump into the world of the Luna Bros.
Danny: As one of the many anonymous people on the Internet hiding behind writing and Tweets and other things outside of my physical body, I get that weird sense of metaphysical confidence. It's way easier to work within frameworks that don't result in social embarrassment or physical reprisal or whatever someone of Sam's persuasion might fear or dread from reality.
Whispers isn't the best Image Comics debut, which doesn't say much because there have been about a zillion great debuts over the past year. But It's an intriguing first chapter, and I'm seriously looking forward to see if and how Josh Luna explores any of the questions and ideas his first issue brings up.
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.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.