When I saw that the comic at the top of my review queue was written by Mark Bertolini, I felt confident that I was in safe hands, and that this was going to be a quality comic I’d be reviewing. Bertolini’s Breakneck was the first indy comic I reviewed here, I believe, and so you could say it was at least partly responsible for setting me on this path of discovering some of the hidden gems out there in the world of creator-owned comics. Ghost Lines showed similar creative promise, and Long Gone stands as his most accomplished work yet. The prolific writer has such a dizzying amount of projects in various stages of development that I think it’s only a matter of time before he reaches critical mass and breaks out in the comics scene, and it’ll feel like all of a sudden he’s everywhere the way it was with Nick Spencer a couple of years back. That’s when groundwork and keeping busy pays off. This latest project, Broken, became an even more intriguing prospect when I realised it was drawn by Allen Byrns, the artist who made such an impression with his distinctive style in 215 Ink’s oneshot graphic novel The Price.
The story, as it’s set up here, seems like a grim distortion of the Batman origin. Here, Bruce Wayne is substituted for Quinn Baker, and the iconic brush-strokes of the murder in Crime Alley is replaced with a messy, violent killing lacking entirely in glamour or poetry, as we are immersed in the intense trauma felt by Quinn as his parents are brutally murdered before his eyes. What if, instead of fast-forwarding years to see how Bruce Wayne had dedicated his life to the prevention of crime and turned himself into a superhero, we instead stayed with him as a boy in the immediate aftermath of this traumatic effect, and explored how his young psyche had been battered? That’s what happens in Broken, and the dark alleyways (literal and psychological) the resulting narrative leads us takes us in a direction that’s all of a sudden very different from a superhero origin.
Without going into too much detail about the twists of the plot, we set up a story that treads on themes I’m very interested in, and in fact was in the process of exploring in a Western script I ultimately cast aside for now. It seems that, like me, Bertolini is interested in the deflation of revenge, and the exploration of how seeking it may result not in catharsis, as the movies so often suggest, but a greater emptiness. I’m really interested to see how this angle develops in future instalments.
As for the art of Allen Byrns, he continues to carve out a niche all his own with his work here. His style may not be for everyone, but even if I hadn’t recognised the name on the credits page, one panel was enough to instantly identify who was drawing this comic, and that’s certainly a good thing for an emerging artist. His trademark of cartoony, simplistic characters juxtaposed against dark, grainy backgrounds created a nightmarish quality that was an ideal match for The Price, and here in Broken it is reflective of Quinn’s trauma, of the harsh edges tearing their way into his sheltered world. It also visualises the theme of childhood innocence being corroded by a corrupt, ugly world.
One of the best things about doing these reviews is that I’ve come to recognise names as they pop up again and again, and the presence of certain creators becomes a kind of watermark of quality. That is very much the case here. For someone like me who in recent months has become increasingly familiar with the world of indy comics, this is a superstar pairing. If they keep putting out solid work like Broken, a lot more comics readers will be considering this a superstar pairing before too long.
Broken #1 will soon be available from the Barnes & Noble Nook store.