The sound of New Orleans plays heavily into the first issue of Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child, with writer Selwyn Seyfu Hinds relying on a jazzy narration to keep his story racing forwards. Set four months after Hurricane Katrina, the series focuses on a young girl, Dominique, as she runs from place to place like a lost chicken, screaming her head off and getting nothing much done in the process. In fact, her presence seems to be single-handedly causing most of the trauma in the book, as at least five people so far seem to have been killed off because they were close to her. Not exactly an auspicious start, Dominique.
While the issue pelts along entertainingly enough, dropping plenty of hints that there's something much bigger going on in the background — something readers won't be able to get a handle on until at least ten issues down the line — there are two or three problems with the story. The first is the narration, which breaks down the pages into a jazz beat. This narration is ever-present, but we never find out who it is that's reciting it. Instead, it appears to be Hinds himself, commenting on the setting of his story and imposing a sense of tone into the book which is never present in the dialogue. Hinds' attempts to get the feel of New Orleans into the book come from a narration which doesn't really need to exist — nothing is imparted to the reader by the somewhat overwritten, grandiose captions, and it doesn't offer any perspective on the characters.
Which is the second problem with the book. Dominique herself is only sparsely characterised during this first issue. She spends most of her time running from secondary character to secondary character, either arguing with them or bonding with them as if her wont. She doesn't feel like a character as such, but more like an empty vessel for Hinds to play around with in whichever way he feels like. She goes through the motions without displaying anything unusual or quirky to stand her out as a notable character. But speaking of empty vessels! Whilst Dominique feels a little like a cipher through this opening issue, there are some interesting characters scattered around the sidelines. Chief amongst them is Chancellor Malenfant, whose name alone should strike fear into your stony heart. Entering the story halfway through, Malenfant's presence — strikingly drawn by Denys Cowan, and more on that later — immediately casts a new light over proceedings, and conveys a more effective tone of dread than anything that's gone on before. From this scene onwards, the book seems to have found a sense of purpose and momentum, and picks up dramatically in terms of writing and entertainment.
Denys Cowan's art is, obviously, glorious. He goes short, intense panels of conversation. He does open, double-page splash sequences. He does monsters, he does realism, he does emotion, he does visceral violence. Hinds' greatest achievement in the first issue is to make sure that Cowan and inker John Floyd have plenty of things to play around with, and every time the art team hit their mark with effortless style. In a book which struggles to say anything new about itself, it's the silent sequences which stay with the readers longest.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. Never forget! He writes The Book of Monsters, a webcomic which updates every Sunday with a new story, monster, and artist. Join in!