Alasdair Stuart writes for Bleeding Cool;
Atypical Comics is Geoffrey D Wessel's self-published comics imprint. Wessel's a relentlessly determined and focused writer and has been since the days I knew him on the Warren Ellis Forum and Livejournal. His work always has a unique angle, is never afraid to play with the expectations of the reader and will finally be on Comixology Submit this week, starting with Takedown. Takedown is a science fiction one-shot with art by Zach Bassett and letters by Jim Campbell and here are four reasons why it's one of the smartest bits of comic SF I've read in some time.
1.No Skin Off My Chin
Takedown is set in the future, following a coup d'etat that's established an authoritarian world government, with the peace kept by highly trained officers referred to as Ajudicators. So far so Dredd, I know, but Wessel takes it in two different directions straight away. The first is that the Adjudicators aren't the government, just a particularly powerful (And violent) group of First Responders. Secondly, the government is cheerfully warlike, as demonstrated by a neat sequence where the main character has to thread his way through a peace demonstration. Earth is just one world in a big galaxy. There are countless other civilizations out there and we're at war with a good chunk of them. Thirdly, this is an Earth that may be at peace with the wrong neighbors, and the arrival of Lord Lemorte, envoy of the Nebula Empire, demonstrates that. The wars, in particular with the Nebula Empire, have been so traumatic, so damaging that they sparked a coup d'etat This in turn led to the creation of the Adjudicators and Bledsoe, a man with no love for the Nova Empire, to be indirectly presented with an opportunity for revenge. The only questions is how can he take his revenge and stay inside the law he's sworn to uphold? There's a lot of really interesting moral ambiguity to the situation that further distances Takedown from it's influences and strengthens the story tremendously. Bledsoe may look like Dredd and employ similar tactics but he has his own, equally complex, set of problems
In a one-shot like this, and especially with a character like this, you need every single panel to explore the character. The first time we see Bledsoe he's a huge, monolithic figure, filling every panel he's in, a uniform with vocal chords. Compare that to the diffident way he's drawn here. This entire scene humanizes the character perfectly, showing us Bledsoe isn't the 'carved out of justice' supercop he's initially presented as being.
This is actually one side of a grid but the two panels complement one another perfectly, Bledsoe coming in from the right and Chief Karlson turning to face him from the left. There's a lot of smart composition like this in Takedown and it really helps ground the characters. Bassett even turns Bledsoe's visor transparent for reaction shots, showing us eyes and his emotional responses. Bledsoe's volatile, troubled, and everything from that to his relationship with his boss is folded back into the plot.
3.Talking the Talk
Takedown is a story about why one man does what he does, and the steps he takes to make his peace with both his past and his future. It's a pretty sombre character piece but there's still room for the odd bit of banter. This is my favorite example.
4.The End is the Beginning is The End
Takedown pulls off a couple of really impressive narrative tricks in it's closing pages, simultaneously being very smart and gleefully clinging to it's pulpy roots. The sequence this half-page is drawn from is one of them, explaining the exact nature of Lord Lemorte and how he relates both to Bledsoe, and the current government of Earth. We get a fun clash of spaceship styles, a chunk of nicely handled exposition and, again, Bledsoe out from under the mask. Heavy is the head that wears the Adjudicator helmet, after all. That discomfort, and everything on this page (Especially the bit I haven't included) is vital to how the story resolves.
Takedown is a really smart, ambitious piece of science fiction. It wears it's influences on it's sleeve but it does a couple of genuinely surprising things, upending your expectations and telling a tight, contained story that has surprising emotional weight. Equal parts cop story and character study, it's available from Comixology tomorrow, priced 99 cents.