Let’s get this bit over with early. For a while now, it seems like the Looper parallels have loomed large over Comeback. Both bring a grungy, low-tech, noir-tinged approach to time travel, placing it within a grounded sci-fi mythology more recognisable to our own world, and both debuted around the same time. I know when someone first mentioned Comeback to me, they compared it to Looper. But there are some key differences, namely that while Looper applies its black market time travel tech to the business of taking lives while Comeback applies it to saving them, on the surface, at least. But I happened to like Looper, and so my curiosity was piqued about checking out a similar tale with Comeback. I never did get round to reading the single issues, but I was pleased to pick it up this past week as a collected graphic novel. And upon devouring the whole thing in a single sitting, I realised it really isn’t all that much like Looper after all beyond those surface details. If anything, it reminds me more of the time travel in Timecrimes – people meddling with something they quite clearly shouldn’t be, resulting in increasingly head-spinning changes and tinkering within a relatively confined timeframe – and the atmosphere generated by quietly sinister British conspiracy thrillers like State of Play or Edge of Darkness. So, writer Ed Brisson and artist Michael Walsh’s Image miniseries is very much its own thing, and more than capable of being assessed on its own merits.
The backmatter in this collected edition of Comeback makes for some inspirational reading, with Brisson delving into how he and Michael Walsh made a vow to get themselves picked up by a major publisher within the space of a year, and how, after 8 months, they did it. Not by nurturing a single idea, but by bombarding with pitch after pitch, coming up with as high a volume of ideas as they could to increase the odds of honing in on that one killer concept that would capture an editor’s imagination. The successful pitch for Comeback is included in this volume, and what a high concept it is. In a world that is not really recognisably sci-fi at all (indeed, it’s referred to as “The Present” in the captions), there is a company called Reconnect. For a lofty price, they will reunite bereaved people with their lost loved ones, by travelling back in time into the recent past and plucking the deceased out of the timeline shortly before their death. Reconnect will then perfectly restage that death with another body so as not to meddle with the fragile timeline, and the reunited loved ones are taken off to live a new life with new identities far away elsewhere. Of course, as is the case with such tales, all is not as it seems!
I first became familiar with Ed Brisson through two avenues. First, as a ubiqutous letterer on the indie comics scene, who has applied his considerable skills across a wide range of creator-owned titles I’ve reviewed over the years. And second, as a promising emerging writer on 215 Ink’s gritty crime oneshot, Black River. But with Comeback, Brisson steps up to a whole other level. Trying to get around the mechanics and paradoxes of time travel is enough to make my penis bleed, but Brisson makes it all feel very straightforward and accessible. Things get a bit mental in the later chapters, with history getting rewritten and re-rewritten at an increasingly frenzied pace, but it works so well because we gradually ease into it, starting with sporadic, surgical incisions into the timeline before steadily escalating to this craziness in a way that feels organic within the story.
But one of the smarter plays Brisson makes is not getting too wrapped up in the mechanics of time travel and the mythology of this world, instead narrowing the focus and giving us a character drama. Mark, our ostensive lead character, has an interesting journey, going from fastidious company man to uorthodox action man and rebel. But for me the most fascinating figure in Comeback is Mark’s partner, Seth. I can’t go into the role he plays in the narrative too much without delving into spoilers – and the less you know about the specifics of the plot beyond the initial setup going in, the better – but it’s through him we most clearly see the physical and spiritual toll that meddling with time can take. I also really liked the character of Owen, a blue-collar heavy who exudes a kind of understated menace. The only person who really seemed to get short thrift to me was potential car crash rescuee Kelly, whose motivations are erratic and, without further contextualisation, make her seem pretty unlikeable. Brisson himself notes in the back pages that one of his big regrets was not having the space to flesh her character out further.
Michael Walsh’s art is interesting. When I first flipped through a single issue of Comeback (I think it was around the time issue #3 was released), his style initially didn’t really geab me. But though it’s not flashy or immediately eye-catching, once you get into it there’s a lot to like. His characters have this real lived-in feel about them, where you read so much into the personalities of even relatively minor figures based on the way they stand or the nuance of expression on their faces. The minimalist linework is reminiscent of the likes of Chris Samnee or Dave Aja, and feels like a suitable fit for the crime genre leanings of the tale. More than suitable, I think it’s Walsh’s muted approach that grounds everything, and really sells the believability of the concept without making it feel too futuristic and alien.
Also worth mentioning are the colors of Jordie Bellaire, who is fast establishing herself as one of the most versatile colourists in the field. As a demonstration of her diverse range, would you guess that the person who coloured The Manhattan Projects also coloured this? While that is all bright acid pop, with those bold red/blue washes, here the pallette is much more restrained and washed-out, save for the odd flourish of nightmare-red in moments of violence. The ambient lighting is handled very well throughout, with early morning, daytime and night all identifiable at various points of the story, and best of all one apartment scene bathed in neon-purple lights from outside signage that put me in mind of Nicholas Winding Refn psycho-pulp. Jordie and Walsh make for a good visual team.
It seems like, every year, there emerges a breakout talent in the comics world that seems poised to strike out into the next level. With his upcoming Image series Sheltered looking highly promising, and this lovely graphic novel release of Comeback collecting the story for the trade-waiters, it seems like Ed Brisson could be the breakout creative voice of this year poised to leap to the next level. His talent for coming up with those killer ideas, paired with an ability to realise those in compelling stories with perfectly-chosen artistic collaborators, definitely marks him out as someone with the tools to make a splash in the field in years to come. Unlike the characters in the story, the creative team of Comeback certainly seemed poised for a bright future!