Storm Dogs really hits its stride here, fleshing out its cast, its world, and its central mystery all. While the debut was strong, it didn't entirely grab me, but this issue did so immediately and never let go. I'd love to point to a specific thing, a particular narrative tool used or an especially well-drawn panel, but the fact is this is just a rock solid comicbook from cover to cover. It does everything right.
David Hine has given himself a fairly large cast, all brand new characters operating in an unfamiliar world. It's no simple task, then, to introduce and establish each of them as detailed and unique individuals, but he manages to pull it off quite deftly. Because the main team is new to the world of Amaranth, not used to living in a place that's so technologically underdeveloped, they have a lot of questions and a lot to learn. This allows Hine to do some world-building through dialogue, particularly between the group's commander (cannot for the life of me remember her name and didn't see it in the issue anywhere) and Starck, the local sheriff. The commander believes in always strictly following the letter of the law, whereas Starck is considerably looser about rules and regulations, only enforcing them when he feels it's necessary. So the two of them butt heads a few times as we learn about Starck's laxness when it comes to drug users, keeping Amaranth's indigenous races separate from the Union, and even the planet's restricted technologies. An even more extreme pairing is Professor Zendra and Bronson, Starck's deputy. In Zendra we see a woman with genuine concern over the well-being of the races of Amaranth, worried that the Joppa and Elohi cannot avoid being corrupted by the society which now shares their world. Bronson, meanwhile, not only isn't concerned but has a clear and open lack of respect for these beings. It's a powerful dichotomy and, again, it works to very quickly build up these characters while simultaneously educating the reader on some of the details of Amaranth as a setting. This is all done over only a handful of pages, which leaves ample room for the star and single best character of Storm Dogs #2, Jered.
Jered opens the issue and acts as an occasional narrator, and I liked having a chance to get into his head. He's a talented, intelligent man, passionate about his job, but otherwise rather quiet and reserved. He's very likable early on, and when he's approached by Doll, a prostitute of unclear or possibly mixed gender, it adds a bit of humor to their interaction. There is a sweetness and almost fearfulness that Jered brings to the their conversation and subsequent sexual liaison that I found endearing. Of course, it's also why he is willing to share a secret with Doll that leads to a break-in at the morgue, but as bad as that is for the characters, for us as readers all it means is the mystery has widened. Or deepened. Whichever you prefer.
For all the personality Hine's script gives this cast, though, it is Doug Braithwaite's art that truly breathes life into them. It's not just the people, even. Everything has an incredible richness to it, an impressive level of detail and realism. It doesn't matter if it's a subtle facial expression from one of the protagonists, a massive bar brawl between humans and Elohi, or handful of tiny green slug-like creatures called "dream bugs," Braithwaite pours life into every panel. Even with the corpses in the opening scene, you can feel the softness and coldness of their dead flesh, see that these people were only recently alive. As strong a premise as Storm Dogs has, the visuals are what push it from good comic to amazing comic. The design of the Joppa and Elohi might be my favorite thing Braithwaite contributes, because the Joppa look so pathetic and small next to their Elohi, yet they are the more intelligent race and, seemingly, the ones in charge. I enjoy that contrast immensely, and the rest of his design work is just as strong. There's a well-balanced mix of sci-fi and wild west details in the setting, and a bizarre but consistent sense of fashion amongst the people living there. And the villain introduced on the final page looks wonderfully menacing and unstable. Can't wait to see that guy in action.
There's so much else to love: the concept of wireheads, people who rent their bodies out for others to control; a gun with a "crowd control" setting that stuns an entire room at once; even the fundamental set-up of Amaranth being a planet full of criminals who couldn't live anywhere more advanced without getting locked up. It's all great stuff, and we learn about it without needing any expository pauses or unnatural info dumps. Hine and Braithwaite weave together a world and narrative that fires on all cylinders for every page. Storm Dogs is only one-third complete, but already a deeply rewarding read.