Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dirty Dozen: Revival

Dirty Dozen is a semi-regular feature with twelve disconnected thoughts on the first twelve issues of a current ongoing series.

1. The premise of the book is introduced quite well. In the debut, the dead already returned to life a while back. Revival Day is old news, and now the people of Wausau are dealing with the fallout, the quarantine and murders and so forth. Nobody every has the sort of long, unnecessary expositional dialogue that often exists in these kinds of stories, where one character tells another character a bunch of facts that they both already know about the past. Instead, everyone's focus is on the future, how to keep normal life going in light of this extraordinary event. The details of what happened come out naturally while people debate what's best to do from here, instead of pointlessly and unrealistically rehashing Revival Day for one another.

2. Rereading this series' first twelve issues all at once, I was struck by how much I had forgotten. There's so much information about so many characters, and not all of it has proven its importance to the larger narrative(s) yet. But there's enough payoff and evidence of planning that I trust Tim Seeley and Mike Norton to make everything count eventually, so I think continuously revisiting the issues I've already read will likely prove beneficial.

3. Essentially, the entire book is propelled by two central questions: What caused Revival Day? and Who murdered Martha? Yet each of those mysteries raises so many other, smaller questions, that finding concrete answers to either of them is proving difficult. Not to mention that every member of the cast has his or her own motivations and focuses, and very few (if any) of them have the truth as their top priority.

4. The small town elements of the series are fantastic. Family problems, high school acquaintances reconnecting, old secrets and wounds that never completely go away. Some of the specific bits and pieces are a bit cliché, but intentionally so, allowing the reader familiar footholds on the long, difficult journey through the supernatural elements of the narrative. The setting is a way in, a recognizable stage on which the drama of this horror tale can play out.

5. There is definitely some intense blood-and-guts stuff sometimes, but it's not the only or even primary source of horror. Mike Norton can draw gross out panels with the best of them, but he strikes a good balance between exaggerated gore and realistic depictions of violence and pain. Also, he makes the moments of high tension, the quieter, more creeping types of horror, equally powerful and unsettling. The story uses numerous scare tactics, shocking disgust being only one of them. But that is not the biggest, most important, or most impressive strategy. Neither is the supernatural material. It is the more down-to-earth, human evils where Norton and Seeley both do their best work.

6. There aren't exactly story arcs in Revival, which I like. Things do resolve, like the Check brothers' body part smuggling operation or, before that, the stepsiblings who had an affair and Mrs. Dittman killing her daughter and then herself. But it's not a one-thing-ends-another-begins pattern. Threads start and stop based on their own momentum, and new complications and characters are introduced almost every issue. Problems don't arise one at a time, and it gives the book a more interesting and true-to-life pacing that isn't seen often enough in serialized storytelling in any medium.

7. There are a lot of pop culture references. I don't mind them but I'm not sure how much they add. The punchline of Blaine Abel having "Nookie" as his ringtone and May saying she'd pick Satan over a Limp Bizkit fan is superb, though.

8. The series of three panels where Anders Hine finally lets his façade slip and reveals the ugly evil within are my favorite thing in this series thus far.

9. Perhaps my favorite character is Ed Holt. Not as a person, but as an addition to this particular narrative. The dude is an obvious asshole, an ignorant, violent, self-important racist and fanatic. He's villainous in a real-world sense, and in a more human story, he would probably be the biggest evil around. But in this book, I'm not sure he's actually very much of a threat. There are such bigger, scarier, more immediate dangers that Holt comes across as a harmless old grump rather than the extremely unhinged gun nut he truly is. He could easily prove to be worse than he seems before all is said and done, and that intrigue is what draws me to him.

10. Martha and Dana are nicely similar yet distinct. Solid sister characters, written by someone who understands the nuances of that kind of relationship. Though they have their own unique personalities, there's enough crossover to see that they were raised in the same household. And of course, Norton's designs for them accomplish the same thing; they're clearly related, but easily identifiable and distinguishable, too.

11. Cooper might be the weakest member of the cast, if only because his kid voice is sometimes too much for me. It works more often than not, but has scenes of being too on-the-nose or over-the-top, like when he says out loud that maybe the ghost/demon thing in the woods has a mom who is always away at work. Not that a kid wouldn't think or say that, but it feels like a lazy way to explain something we already understand about Cooper in the service of having him sound especially childish. I do love the comicbook he makes in issue #12. Some really excellent kid humor in there that I wish we'd see more of from Cooper.

12. Slowly but steadily, we do learn things about the revivers. There seems to be a common lack of emotion between them, expressed by Martha in her actions and reactions, and by Anders Hine and Joe Meyers out loud. They've all lost that part of themselves in their death and rebirth, and I have to assume it will be important down the line. There also appears to be some unseen connections between them. They can recognize one another by sight, or at least some of them can. And when the ghost/demon creature inhabited Martha, she was flooded with Joe Meyers memories. Meanwhile, Joe had a dream about that encounter from the point of view of the ghost/demon. These people are bound together by an unknown force, chosen to be brought back from death for what, more and more, feels like some specific purpose. Though the reasons for Revival Day remain undefined, it is becoming obvious that there were reasons.

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