Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pull List Review: Change #1

Change #1 is an intentionally uncomfortable comicbook. Morgan Jeske's art is strange and warped, a little larger than life and also a bit sadder. Ales Kot's dialogue is deliberately just shy of sounding natural. Everyone is somehow just a bit more honest out loud than people normally are, more matter-of-fact in their conversations than the topics of those conversations would suggest. After discovering three cloaked, dagger-wielding strangers in her house, Rhubarb Maya calmly turns to her husband and says, "I think this is a home invasion." It's not an inappropriate reaction, just an atypical one, and Change #1 is full of those sorts of off-kilter moments. It creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability, making the reader more and more uneasy with each page. I didn't realize it until it happened, but I was waiting for some violence to erupt long before it did, not because of any specific clues, but because I could tell from the overall mood of the book that something significant and scary was on the horizon.
     I actually still feel that way, even after completing the first issue. It ends on a note of impending terror, as well as even more discomfort and confusion. We don't know what the astronaut sees in the ocean, where it's headed or what it'll do, but the fear he feels upon spotting it is palpable. And even before we reach that final page, it's evident that a whole lot of significant, scary stuff is going on underneath and behind the present-tense events of this issue. Why does Werner try to murder Sonia so suddenly, and who are the men watching them? Why do they call her a prophet, and what do they hope to gain from her death? Are they related to W-2 & Rhubarb's hooded attackers? Clearly there is still a lot to be learned and discovered about the reality of this book, and based on what we've been shown so far, I'd bet that each new piece of the puzzle will only serve to heighten the insanity and horror.
     Kot treats his audience like intelligent and careful readers, not providing easy or overt explanations to everything but still crafting a story that has all you need to understand it. It's a challenging read in the way it jumps from moment to moment, skips over some details, and uses slightly stilted and hyper-stylized narration. But his characters are a lot of fun, even in this somewhat dreary setting, particularly Sonia, whose strong and confident voice is very quickly and firmly established. She isn't expecting to be fired from her current project, nor is she expecting to have her boss try to stab her, but she handles both without ever completely losing her cool. It reassures me that she'll be able to deal with whatever comes next, since her problems have obviously just begun. Same goes for W-2, who acts quickly and decisively to defend his home and his wife. Whoever it is that wants these people dead, they've got their work cut out for them.
     Jeske invites the reader to pay close attention as well. When the violence finally goes down, we don't get the usual comicbook fight sequences with large panels of fast-paced action. On the contrary, Jeske closes in on things, showing us a panel of a knife's blade meeting a defensive palm, crazed eyes staring hatefully at their target, a tongue, a lapel button, and more of these kinds of small details. It's closer to pulling the reader into to violence than trying to show us what it looks like from the outside, and it's an effective method in that regard. The danger feels more immediate, the pain closer than usual. This isn't cartoony superhero slugfest fighting, this is real-world attempted murder by knife---intimate and sudden and fierce.
     It'd be easy to breeze through Change #1 and come out of it feeling visually stimulated and mentally baffled. Jeske's artwork is haunting and gorgeous, and does some really interesting stuff with sound effects, so even without Kot's script this would be an enjoyable and worthwhile comic. But if you take the time to study all of the words on the page, to take note of each of the tiny panels in the fight scenes and what they mean, to really delve into the meat of this book, you end up with a far more satisfying experience than a first pass could provide. It's all right there, available to us and for our consumption, but Kot and Jeske won't spoonfeed their readers. They've already cooked up a tasty meal, and now our job is to slowly savor every bite.

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