Review: Anathema #2 (of 6)A comic review article by: Keith Silva
''Murder your darlings," so said the fantastically-surnamed Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Sir Arthur's advice is one of those sharp points in the writer's Swiss Army knife alongside "write what you know" and "show, don't tell." Quiller-Couch's counsel has become a bit of a double-sided blade over the years; it's sometimes used as a reason for a writer to kill off favorite characters, but what AQ-C was really trying to say was when a writer falls in love with something to the point that objectivity and judgment are lost than it should go.
Bullshit. This "scorched earth" approach cripples fledgling and still insecure writers. One never wants to lose objectivity or allow a scene or even a sentence to get away from him or her, but (we) writers do it all the time and lazy writers twice on Sunday.
Anathema writer Rachel Deering is the opposite of insecure. She doesn't want to murder her darlings as much as lodge the occasional axe in a character's calf or have their soul sucked out by birds. Deering is a turbo hardcore talent. Anathema #1 was a tour-de-force of empowerment, horror and the sacrifice implied by irreparable choices. The "hell bent for leather" decisions Mercy has made, however, cause her (and Deering) to over-think the situation in this second chapter.
Mercy is a newborn werewolf, a decision she made after bearing witness to her lover, Sarah, being burned at the stake (by Sarah's own zealot father, no less) and having her soul exorcised by a cult of demon-bird-men. Sarah's soul removal goes back to an ancient curse by a vampire, Aldric Karnstein. Mercy has pledged to avenge Sarah's death by stopping the D-B-M before these "defenders of the faith" can resurrect Karnstein, who's burned and broken body parts were reposed to the east, west, north and south as one does with the unholy remains of a vampire lord.
Anathema and Mercy are Deering's darlings no doubt, but all three would be less edgy and have less bite without Chris Mooneyham on art. Mooneyham matches the energy and intensity of Deering's story with equal parts pathos and horror. For all the introspection that occurs in Anathema #2, Mooneyham gets to draw from a script that is non-stop action. Mercy leaps, drops and slashes her way across almost every page; and she and Mooneyham always stick the landing.
Ian Herring keeps the moody blues, blood-red reds, and deep kohl blacks established by previous colorist Fares Maese while expanding the palette with impressionistic oranges and yellows that crackle and appear near dream-like. Herring also has the enviable task of finding the appropriate color for a dreadlocked fish-monster with banana-shaped breasts -- tits would seem the better word choice, but let's keep it classy -- with nipples to match its stiletto-sized teeth. Yeah. Teeth.
Deering has decided to make Mercy mute; this is either brilliant or insane. On one hand it adds to the "otherness" of a supernatural character -- the D-B-M can speak which seems like a cheat, but oh well -- while on the other hand it means a lot of inner monologues, a lot. Sometimes Mercy's thoughts are a moral counterpoint to the action on the page like when she rationalizes the good and evil inherent in murder as a cliff side village burns and its inhabitants are besieged by the D-B-M. The heart sings when Mercy says "I kill for love."
In the second half of the story when Mercy tracks (or is led by) the D-B-M to a creepy seaside cavern, her narration sounds less like an internal ethical struggle and more like a play-by-play of her actions. Mooneyham draws of Mercy's hand (paw?) with its long werewolf nails as it caresses chiseled stone; the image is flanked by dialogue boxes: "These marks are not natural." and "They have been carved." This same superfluous commentary continues as she investigates the cave: "These remains are ancient." Unnatural, primeval, got it, move on. Before all hell breaks loose, Deering gives Mercy her "Hamlet-moment" as she holds a skull up to investigate. This scene is accompanied by more internal musings, none of which add to the moment. Had Deering given the scene over to Mooneyham, the result would have been no less tense or filled with less foreboding. It's more a misstep than a major flaw, but with a mute protagonist this kind of gratuitous narration could become a crutch.
Deering and Mooneyham craft a beautiful panel about halfway through Anathema #2 that strikes a perfect balance between art and text; a breathtaking image that is emblematic of the story itself. Mercy extends a "nice-to-meet-you" blood-stained paw to a young girl that she saved a-moment-ago. The girl (looking like Alice, pinafore dress and all) recoils in fear and fright. She screams, "NYAAH!" Mercy's narration is cool, stoic: "No matter how I try, I cannot speak." Maybe this is a glimpse into Mercy's (un)merc(y)ful fate -- mute and misunderstood, a true anathema. Anathema is a brilliant idea and this panel shows exquisite execution on the part of the artist and writer. Deering doesn't want to murder her darling, but rest assured, she's sure as hell going to make Mercy hurt.
We have an interview with Rachel Deering up now, where she divulges news about the future of Anathema! Read it here.
Anathema #1 and #2 are available in print and digital at http://rdeeringonline.bigcartel.com
The first cassette tape Keith Silva bought was Iron Maiden's Somewhere in Time (Powerslave was sold out). He was once witness (by proxy) to an orgy of consumerism by the band Danzig at an Electronics Boutique. For more things Silva, follow @keithpmsilva and read Interested in Sophisticated Fun?