There's a fight going on. It's a fight between good and evil, between heroes and villains, and it's been going on for a long time. But there's a twist. The good guys may not be who you think they are, and the bad guys — well, they're very, very bad.
Villains is the latest comic from Earthbound Comics, a loose group of comic fans who came together to create the kind of comics that they want to read, made available to readers through print on demand. I chatted with them a bit at their table at Image Expo and they were nice enough to send me a copy. Earthbound is all about a lot of same things that Image is about: creative freedom, allowing creators to own their work, and doing their part to deliver unique stories for readers. They were a perfect fit for the Expo, and Villains is an entertaining — if a bit unpolished — comic from Earthbound.
As you can see from the images included with this review, the art on this book is a bit rough. It has a lot of enthusiasm and passion behind it, and there's nice use of smart storytelling tricks, but the inking especially contains a bit more enthusiasm than experience. For example, the full-page panel on page 11 spans from the sky down to an urban street. Ben Ferrari draws the scene with real passion, taking a lot of time to lavish detail on the almost supernaturally starry sky. Beneath the sky we see houses and cars that seem almost, but not quite, how Ferrari probably saw them in his head. The houses are just a bit indistinct, the drawing just a bit short of slick. The image has nice composition and is well framed, but the execution is not quite there.
But there are quite a few places where the storytelling really emphasizes the power of the story. Page 15, showing two characters arriving at a mountainside headquarters, is a really cleverly designed page, featuring a full-page vertical panel as its first panel that emphasizes the height of the headquarters in a really effective way. I felt some vertigo when looking at that panel. And the silent page 31, as a character walks down a long, narrow hallway as he confronts another side of his life after a bad dream, is a really effective suspense builder.
There's a lot of potential in this art. Improvement with pen and ink will just come with experience, but storytelling chops are a pretty rare talent.
The story is really a good match for the art: it's rough at times, but it also has lots of sparks of energy and passion that give it an intriguing feel. The story opens with a long fight scene and a character spouting fairly clichéd lines like "They signed the contract on their lives as soon as they put others in a grave! Thowin' these bastards in jail isn't enough! Too many lawyers! Too much red tape! They always get off somehow! I've had enough!!!" How many times have we read those sorts of lines in a vigilante comic and rolled our eyes?
And yet the character has good reasons for screaming those lines, and more than that, he seems to have some moral and emotional depth for his anger. It's not just that he feels like he's doing the right thing. He is doing the right thing, fighting a worldwide criminal conspiracy called the Shroud that really is completely screwing the rest of the world for their evil ends. Suddenly we realize this comic has a huge twist in it: who are the heroes here and who are the villains, really?
It's a good twist — definitely not bad for a comic sold on IndyPlanet. Villains has a lot of potential to be pretty cool. These guys should be doing some goddamn awesome comics in a few years.