Writer Greg Rucka admits in his afterward to Veil #1 that starting a story with a naked woman is risky, especially if she almost immediately meets some potentially violent men. Readers could assume that this is yet another misogynist or exploitative comic book. But it’s not, for a couple of reasons.
But first: the basic premise is that the woman wakes up (naked) on an abandoned subway platform, not remembering anything about who she is, or why she’s there. After making her way up to street level, she finds herself in an old-schoolish New York-ish red light district, where she’s swarmed by some fairly sleazy dudes. Fortunately, she’s “rescued” by one decent-hearted guy, Dante, though rescue isn’t quite the word, since the woman, who says her name is Veil, has powers, which she remembers how to use. Instead, Dante is more of her guide in this Inferno.
So Veil isn’t exactly helpless. But the real reason the story doesn’t feel exploitative is the artwork, by Toni Fejzula. He draws (and colors) Veil so that she’s vulnerable-appearing (as is anybody, naked) but not overtly sexy. Instead, she’s just real. Attractive, sure, in a basic sense, but it’s not a distraction, nor even the main focus. When she appears naked in panels, it’s usually from a back angle, and pretty soon she’s in some of Dante’s old baggy clothes.
The writing is subtle: Rucka doesn’t give us any captions, and the ‘dialogue’ for the first pages consists of Veil sing-songing words, like she’s practicing (or remembering) how to use language. Even when she talks with people, she tends to echo back what they’re saying.
Which means much of the storytelling we see is visual, and Fejzula does that handily, and subtly, just like Rucka writes. The coloring style feels like a mix of watercolors and neon, more impressionistic than realistic. There are a couple panels right at the beginning (I don’t think this is a spoiler) where he draws wind, merely by showing pieces of paper blowing around.
This is a great creative team. Rucka uses a similar technique here that he used in the beginning issues of Lazarus, which is to plop the reader down in a world, without explanations or exposition, and makes our curiosity, tied in with the main characters’ own questions, the driving force of the story. Not many comics writers trust their readers that much. Not many creative teams are good enough to get away with it either.
– John Yohe
John hit it right on the head; this story is another example of why Rucka is a heavyweight writer in the comic book game. The stripped down, visual storytelling seems to provide the effect of immediacy and almost makes the reader as lost as the protagonist. The storytelling style gives a sense of aimless wandering, without feeling helpless in a world that already appears to want to take a chunk out of the main character and everyone else in it. This wonderful mystery is about as mysterious they come, and is a rare comic that’s aware that comic fans are smart folks. There’s no spoon feeding here… it’s strictly big boy table storytelling. Stories like this legitimize comics as a literary medium.
The analogy made earlier on, comparing Veil and Dante to Virgil and Dante of the Inferno, hadn’t occurred to me until John mentioned it. Upon further analysis I’m inclined to agree. The location in which Veil emerges reminds (as mentioned before) one of Times Square in the ’70s, which could be considered an underworld of sorts — though without giving too much away it appear that this may be a view of human depravity rather than a trip through the nine rings of hell.
Whether that is the case or not, Fejzula’s art brings the scene alive using a color pallette that makes everything seem dreary and a bit rotten, like a corrupt soul. The art is beautiful, with crisp and potent facial expression for each character.
Though Dante acted as Veil’s protector from the very start there seems to be some inner conflict in him while watching her get dressed. The mutual hope in both of their eyes when he asks her to come with him sets the mood for what their relationship will be look like.
The last scene of this issue was very striking for me in ways I can’t really name, but that is a testament to the chemistry and creative capacity of this duo. As John mentioned they are good enough to get away with this kind of storytelling. Not only do I look forward to reading more of this series, I’m extremely glad I read this comic.
– Ra’Chaun Rogers