Image Comics Reviews: 'Severed,' 'Li'l Depressed Boy,' '27,' and 'Pigs'

Pigs #1, Nate Cosby & Ben McCool (w), Breno Tamura (a)

So this is one of those cases of strong concept meeting fair to not great execution. It has a killer of a last-page reveal that's unfortunately undercut by needlessly jumbled chronology.

The book opens with a group of commandos in wetsuits on a raft planning some kind of attack on American soil, and then jumps to another time period to a couple of D.C. cops grilling an icy Russian national about her knowledge of Soviet sleeper cells left in Cuba following the Bay of Pigs. First off, why a couple of cops are grilling this particular suspect about the particular case we learn they're following strains credibility, but moreover, we're given no frame of reference about who this woman is (besides being some Russian lady in the know) and why she's important.

Then the story moves to Cuba in the recent past, where, after the death of their patriarch, a family gathers, not to mourn the death of their father and husband, but to run down a series of spook checkboxes: "was he poisoned," "was there anyone suspicious around," "what to do next." In sole case of the book not being too clever for its own good, we learn pretty efficiently that this is the sleeper cell in question, and that the husband and wife team have groomed their children for some purpose which will certainly be explored down the line. One of the characters receives a mysterious message, then we make another jump forward in the timeline, and finally we get that hell of a last page.

Laid out end to end with the general elements of the plot before me, Pigs is a pretty compelling read. But when you drill down into the particulars (the thing with the cops, bouncing back and forth in time without creating any sort of new tension in the "present"), the book is ultimately hampered by its attempts to wow the reader instead of simply telling a good story.

The art by Breno Tamura is solid--nothing that would either wow or anything, but it serves the story and keeps characters and action straight--this is a huge bonus for writers Ben McCool and Nate Cosby. Seriously, I'm interested in checking out their next issue, I just wish the first issue had surer footing.

27: Second Set #1, Charles Soule (w), Renzo Podesta (a)

So, you know right off the bat that some how, some way, the lead character of 27 is going to activate the mysterious device on his chest--there would be no story otherwise. The only questions are when and how (and perhaps, what horrible thing will happen).

We open this issue with Will, still suffering from a damaged hand, attempting to rebuild his career by learning to play with his left hand. But there are no crowds for the former big-time star, and it's tough relearning how to play. He takes it out on his girl and he takes it out on himself, and about halfway through their conversation you know the relationship is doomed.

This issue is all about reestablishing the status quo of the series and reminding readers of the big reveal near the end of the last series: if Will uses the device--which gives him a three hour burst of genius--27 times, he'll die. He doesn't remember how many times he's used it, but he swears up and down that he won't touch the button again. Again, good luck with that. He's also enlisted a friend to study the device and help him figure out what it means or what it's going to do.

The strength of this issue is letting us see that, for all of his attempts to make something better of himself, Will is still kind of a scumbag and a little bit of an ass****. It's not a recent development, either: during a concert late in the issue, he's confronted with a band that he was in a position to help once upon a time, but--surprise--he only thought of himself.

By the end of the issue, we see Will in a place that's pretty much going to guarantee his self-destruction, and Charles Soule makes it very readable with the help of artist Renzo Podesta. Will has the qualities of being both the underdog and his worst enemy, and that's always interesting. Podesta's art has a unique, super-angular look to it which sells the off-kilter, gloomy nature of the story.

Severed #2, Scott Snyder & Scott Tuft (w), Attila Futaki (a)

Serial killers, vicious hobos, and kids riding the rails? Why did no one tell me about Severed? This 1916-set thriller is such a fascinatingly grim and grotesque journey across America, and it's right up my alley in terms of the kind of early century nastiness you might find in something like Torso or maybe The Devil In the White City. That is to say, I find this period in history--and some of the ugliness inherent in it--very interesting, and writers Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft manage to evoke the period unpleasantness with skill.

This issue sees the lead character Jack taking to the American railways to find his biological father, making his way to Chicago. Jack has the misfortune to gain the attention of one of the displaced, jobless men who ride the rails during this period and we see exactly how dangerous life could be for a child on their own (or really anyone). Jack and Sam arrive in Chicago to predictable disappointment, while in the background, a cannibalistic serial killer preying on children--I thought it was Albert Fish, at first--takes an interest in Jack.

There's not a lot of fat in the script, and Tuft and Snyder do good work giving readers a good feeling for the period. Artist Attila Futaki's work moves between heavily detailed and impressionistic, which is very useful for conveying the sense of foreboding in the story but occasionally trips things up by making the adult male faces hard to distinguish. It's particularly problematic when you have Jack meeting several male characters throughout the book (I was able to distinguish one because of his shock of red hair and beard), but doesn't ultimately prove fatal to a reading of the story.

Li'L Depressed Boy #6, S. Steven Struble (w), Sina Grace (a)

This is the second music-related release this week, as LDP and his new friend Drew--on their way to a concert--run across the law in a small town. And since our title character doesn't know how to drive, doesn't know anyone else in the area, this leaves our perpetually down-on-his-luck hero stranded.

I can imagine two kinds of audience reactions to Li'l Depressed Boy from audiences not familiar with the book (nope, no room for nuance): either they completely get with the emo rock vibe that the series puts out and kind of let its low-key currents carry them along or they reject it outright--find it too twee and into itself for any kind of further consideration. This latter reaction would be a shame, if not understandable. There's an element of preciousness to the book (cf. Drew's speech about writing bad checks) that might otherwise obscure a work with such an engaging decency and gentleness. The plot is thin, but it's not really the thing here--instead, writer S. Steven Struble wants us to focus on the little moments that happen with these sad/lonely characters in this dusty little town.

Now, let's be clear: I can be a big, sentimental softie, so maybe the book was able to work its charms on me more effectively than it would other readers. But I will say that underneath the all of the melancholy you can find a way to be engaged by the simply but confidently drawn characters.

All these titles are available from Image Comics now.

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