A Stained Glass World Darker Than Hell: Veil Vol. 1 From Dark Horse
When I heard that Veil was announced at New York Comic Con about 18 months ago, I was particularly interested to see the comic, and when it arrived, I managed to pick up the first two issues before being side-tracked by the sheer heft of comics being published now and hesitating about which titles to read in single issue and which to try to catch in trade. When I saw that the collected edition of Veil had come out, spotting it on the shelf in a comic shop, I didn't hesitate—I would at last get to finish reading that story.
We can and do discuss the merits of reading comic stories sequentially versus in collections or presenting the same stories as graphic novels or as "chapters", and while I hope to God that both methods of distribution continue indefinitely in print as well as digital format, my English Major heart does give a particular squee of anticipation when I get a full collection trade in hand, plenty of coffee, and a little quiet. Veil is a book that I particularly enjoyed reading in collection, and neatly bound hardback no less.
For me, part of the reasoning behind this was the really exceptional art by Tony Fejzula. His use of angles and geometric spot-shading, which you can even see at the planning stages of his pencils as extra material included in this trade edition, give the book such a distinctive look and make you more conscious perhaps than usual of the "art" behind this artform of comics. His colors, assisted by Aljosa Tomic, are just outrageously original. As a reader, I feel I am watching an entire narrative play out as screened through stained glass windows, an impression completed by the angular form of his linework. Anyone who has seen Veil must certainly be struck by its unique artwork, something that brings to mind poster art and Expressionist paintings just to name a couple comparisons that spring to mind among many. Why am I particularly happy to read a story presented like this in collected format? Because it reinforces through sheer number of pages the statement the artwork is making for me, and also helps me pick up and keep in mind the elements of Fejzula's style that are worthy of note.
There are also aspects to the storytelling in Veil that relate to both the writing and the artwork that mean it reads with unique qualities as a collection. One of those aspects is the use of silent panels. Because this story includes semi-sentient rats (yes, that's right) and also an only semi-human main character, there are as many silent beats in the story as there are panels focused on language and the strangeness of it. The silent panels in this comic actually make the reader more "active" as we have to piece together the movements of characters through the gritty streets of this crime-infested story city, and it's also in the silent moments you particularly pick out the artist's details like signage, that may resonate with the themes of the story. You notice visual symmetries more fully when you see the story as a collection, too, for instance the use of vantage points and vertigo-inducing angles in different ways depending on the storyline. You notice the world, first from below, then from above, in some scenes, but begin to see certain characteristic angles of a "rat's eye view" so to speak.
But let's talk about Greg Rucka's writing for awhile as well, also. Firstly, he seems entirely aware of his co-conspirator Fejzula's need for room and air in the narrative and appears quite comfortable with the use of silences that simply "show" characters in the context of their environment. For that, Rucka had to build quite a significant environment that would play a role in the story in key ways. We have the heavy impressions of the subway where Veil first wakes up, the chaos of a Times Square like street situation she encounters, Dante's abode as a friendly stranger tries to keep her safe for awhile, and later the church where the mysteries of her occult existence are more fully explained. All of these environments suit a kind of tone for this Gothic story.
These locations are primarily dirty, dangerous, and predatory, and ironically, none more so than the church Veil encounters eventually. They give me the impression, though Rucka may not have intended it, that Veil is actually trapped in various circles and hells in keeping with the Dante theme introduced by her friend's name. Everything in the story is enclosing and "chaining" and it's wheels within wheels of corruption. How could anyone find their way out of that? How could there be any light? And by comparison, how could anyone seem worse, no matter what depth they might hail from, than the human beings who make their own world a hell in this story? So, yeah, deep things are going on thematically in Veil.
Rucka's biggest triumph here, in my opinion, though, is in the characterization of Veil, and by reflection, Dante. The whole premise of the book demanded that Rucka be able to present a character who has Infernal roots and yet is the being you're inwardly championing as a reader. How does one do that? Well, Rucka chose to take the path of presenting a great deal of vulnerability, or the semblance thereof, and giving us plenty of room to see the evil in human beings before revealing too much of Veil's dangerous qualities.
Initial chatter surrounding the book was about the use of female nudity, and how to present Veil walking naked through the city, getting a sexual response from the world around her without seeming to propagate sexism in comics. I don't think there's much doubt that Rucka and Fejzula succeeded in that goal, because what they do present is vulnerability, or the appearance of it, which becomes another significant idea in the comic. Rucka also throws in plenty of questions about the nature of good and evil, and reminds us again that our actions define us much more than our words or our appearance. Veil, as a character, holds a mirror up to the world around her, prompting plenty of interesting observations for the reader to make.
Since this collection is labeled Volume 1, let's hope for more from Rucka and Fejzula. They've created a unique perspective in the persona of Veil and a world worth exploring much further in terms of its heights and depths.