2013 Preview: And Then Emily Was Gone

I’ve had quite a bit of fun this week, laying out my various upcoming comics projects and sharing a selection of awesome artwork I’ve received from my talented collaborators.  For today’s final entry in my little 2013 Preview series, I’ve got something special for you.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of artist Iain Laurie.  A hero of the Scottish comics scene, Iain Laurie has blown me away with his unique, visionary artwork on the likes of Roachwell, Mothwicke and Horror Mountain (the latter ranking at number four on my list of the top 10 comics of 2012, up there alongside the best of DC, Marvel and Image), and I’d rank him as one of my favourite artists: not a patronising “one of my favourite indie artists”, but one of my favourite artists in comics, full stop.  Well, in 2013, I shall be ticking one of the items off my comics bucket list and doing a comic with Iain Laurie!

Initially, the two of us were scheduled to collaborate on a different project, something large-scale that still must be kept top secret.  That project is still in the mix with a major publisher, but is in something of a holding pattern at the moment, and could be for some time.  So, rather than just waiting for that to materialise and for us to finally get the greenlight on that, Iain and I decided to come up with something else to work on together in the downtime.  Iain fired three great story ideas my way, one of which was called And Then Emily Was Gone and revolved around the mystery of a missing girl on a remote Highland community.  I loved all three ideas, and due to my vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself, I decided to combine elements of them all into a single intricate narrative, taking the title from the aforementioned story outline.  From this, And Then Emily Was Gone was born.

AndThenEmilyWasGonePromoGreg Hellinger was once a brilliant detective, specialising in finding missing people who had seemingly vanished from the face of the earth.  But five years ago, he started seeing monsters.  Plagued constantly by nightmarish visions he is unable to comprehend, Hellinger left the police and has retreated into a life of squallor and seclusion, slowly being driven mad by the demons that haunt him.  But one night, a teenage girl shows up at his door, asking for help.  The girl is called Fiona, and she has fled from her home on the Scottish island of Merksay, in Orkney.  Her friend Emily has gone missing, but what happened to her?  Is she a runaway, as the authorities believe?  Has she fallen victim to an ancient supernatural evil, as Fiona fears?  Or is it a monster of the human variety that lies at the heart of this mystery?

Mystery.  That’s the key word that is at the core of And Then Emily Was Gone.  I’m a huge fan of Twin Peaks: there’s a strong case to be made for it being the greatest TV show of all time, and I think it’s fascinating to look at the phenomenom created around that shows central mystery of “Who killed Laura Palmer?”  I think the serialised nature of the comic medium makes it a perfect place to present such an ongoing mystery, and I would love to emulate that with And Then Emily Was Gone.  I talked yesterday about how Bad Sun could be my most narratively ambitious project yet in terms of its scale, but And Then Emily Was Gone could in fact be just as ambitious in its scope.  While I do have a 6-issue arc in mind to introduce us to this dark, eerie world, this is a mystery that could easily unfold over 10, 20, maybe even more issues, depending on just how deeply I want to explore its various dark, murky corners.

Not that the homage to Twin Peaks ends with the mystery element.  I remember seeing not just Twin Peaks, but other works of movie maestro David Lynch – the likes of Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet and Lost Highway – in relatively quick succession, and they just blew my mind and changed the way I thought about storytelling.  And while my approach to narrative has been mostly straightforward since branching out into comic, I’ve been very curious to experiment with something more off-kilter.  One of my favourite quotes regarding Lynch’s work was how it could exist “in the twilight realm between the crime and horror genres,” and that’s where I see And Then Emily Was Gone existing.  More recent British output such as Kill List and Utopia has also been chucked into the melting pot of influence, hopefully resulting in a comic that’s going to feel deeply strange and unsettling, with even innocuous interactions laced with an impalpable menace and a cloud of dread hanging over the narrative.  Or it’ll just be crap.  Either way, at least it’s going to look stunning!

Iain has been bombarding me with fantastic character sketches and designs, but I simply can’t wait to start seeing his sequentials.  The first issue script is written, and it’s going to me amazing seeing Mr. Laurie bring it to life.  As is the case with Bad Sun, the plan is to compile a submission package and shop And Then Emily Was Gone out to publishers.  But, as is also the case with Bad Sun, there is also a plan in place to get the first issue of this series ready to launch at Glasgow Comic Con in July.

Which brings me to an announcement.  I am now confirmed for Glasgow Comic Con on 13th-14th July, at the CCA in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.  I’ll be in attendance, sharing a table with both Chris Connelly and Iain Laurie.  This is very exciting news for me, as – and I was shocked to discover this – Glasgow Comic Con 2013 will mark Iain Laurie’s first ever official appearance at a comic convention!  So, rush in your droves to our table, get sketches, get copies of his other fantastic comics, and pick up And Then Emily Was Gone!

UPDATE: I’m now able to share with you guys a sneak peek at a couple of mind-blowing interior pages for the first issue, as drawn by Iain Laurie.  Take a glimpse inside the nightmarish world of Greg Hellinger…

Part1Page2

Part1Page3

Advertisements

REVIEW: Batman #5

It goes without saying that Batman #5 is the best issue yet of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on the comic.  I must look like a total pushover with a reviewer, as I started with gushing praise for Batman #1, and have had to stretch to new heights of hyperbole for each subsequent instalment.  But more than that, Batman #5 is in my opinion the best comic from any title to be released by DC since the relaunch, and could very well be one of the best single issues of a Batman story I’ve ever read as a new-release floppy.  This is the comic I’d hand to people, not just to win them over on trying the relaunched Batman series, but to comic fans who think stories with major superheroes like Batman can’t match creator-owned or indie titles for creativity and ambition, or even to comic cynics who think Batman is just for kids.  In short, Batman #5 blew me away.

To offer a catch-up on the plot, last issue ended with Batman’s investigation into the Court of Owls – a shady organisation that could be tied into the very fabric of Gotham since the earliest days of its history – leading him to the sewers of Gotham, where he was ambushed by the Talon (the Court’s mysterious assassin) and dropped into an underground labyrinth.  As we begin this issue, Batman has been trapped in said labyrinth for over a week, with no food and only water that is probably drugged for him to drink, with no escape in sight.  And he’s starting to lose his mind.

In my review for issue #4, I talked a little about how Capullo’s art was showing touches of horror amidst the classic superhero action.  Well, here, we’re taken right over the edge of that cliff, as Snyder gives us a story that is pure horror, arguably scarier than anything he’s written for Swamp Thing or American Vampire.  Snyder has talked about horrors such as Jacob’s Ladder and The Shining acting as inspirations for this issue’s script (in particular, there is a truly horrific sequence that owes a lot to the latter’s notorious “Room 217” scene), but what Batman’s twisted journey through the labyrinth most reminded me of was the terrifying conclusion to Twin Peaks, the extended sequence with Dale Cooper in the Black Lodge.  “The owls are not what they seem,” indeed.  Both tap into that primal fear, that common nightmare of being lost in a strange place, getting increasingly panicked as every attempt to get out takes you back to where you were before…. and you realise you’re not alone, that’s something’s in there with you, chasing you.

This setup alone would be chilling enough, but I think it’s all the more unsettling in that the victim is as beloved a pop culture icon as Batman.  This is Batman, who can get out of anything with prep time, the ultimate escape artist, who Grant Morrison triumphantly showed us is capable of outwitting the greatest of masterminds and even coming back from apparent death and a journey through time unscathed!  We’ve seen him lured into so many death-traps that it’s old hat, that we see it as little more than a mild inconvenience for him.  Snyder gleefully erodes that notion, letting us see Batman struggle to apply that famous logic to his situation, only for it to slip through his fingers and for him to descend into hysteria.  As the chapter progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Batman is acting like a crazy person.  And it’s upsetting!  Seeing Batman ranting and raving, screaming and sobbing, tearing at his flesh and digging his fingers into the floor… it almost feels like it shouldn’t be allowed.  But by dancing on the fringes of what you can get away with in a mainstream superhero property – capped off with a truly shocking cliffhanger – Snyder has injected a sense of genuine “how’s he gonna get out of this!?” peril into a genre that is too often accused of predictability.

Though the bulk of the issue takes place within the labyrinth, acting as an enthralling character dissection of Batman, we do get brief bookends showing how his absence his affecting the supporting cast.  I enjoyed this glimpse of the wider Batman universe, particularly the use of Robin, capturing Damian’s pomposity, but also showing the vulnerability of a child whose lost his father.

Snyder has claimed that he feels this could be the best comic script he’s ever written, and I might be inclined to agree with him.  For some time now, I’ve come to take Snyder’s name on a book as a guarantee of quality, but here he takes his storytelling to a whole new level, and years from now I imagine people will still be ranking this amongst his best work.  This is Snyder’s “Anatomy Lesson”.

Capullo also ups his game, giving us some of the most innovative, experimental visuals I’ve seen in a comic in quite some time.  As Batman’s mind fractures, and he’s plagued by ever more nightmarish visions, that sense of the very fabric of reality coming apart is enhanced by the artwork.  The pages twist and turn from portrait layout to landscape, and eventually spinning upside down, forcing us to abruptly start reading from right-to-left.  We’re left as dizzy and disoriented as Batman.  And look at how the page layouts steadily dissolve from neat, regimented grids to haywire, crooked little windows crammed into the page.  This is a visual representation of going mad.

I love the way Capullo draws Batman here too.  One small touch – the visor on one side of his mask being broken, exposing his eye – speaks volumes throughout the issue.  Firstly, it’s a humanising factor, showing us the man, the Bruce Wayne behind the Batman mask, the vulnerable human in this situation.  But as the story progresses, that eye gets more dilated, more bloodshot.  When Snyder’s script has Batman’s voiceover announcing that he is in control, that he can defeat this enemy, that wild, frantic eye makes a liar out of him. Capullo also makes creepy physical alterations to Batman.  Subtle at first, with his cape shifting and changing size and shape from panel to panel.  But by the end sequence, we descend from Lynchian horror of the mind to wince-inducing Cronenbergian body horror.  Capullo’s been doing superstar work since issue #1, but issue #5 could be his best showcase yet.

The team of inker Jonathan Glapion and colorist FCO have lots to do as well.  There is a reversed dynamic at work here, where its the darkness that offers safety and shelter, and harsh, blinding light where the horrors await.  And it’s through the efforts of these two that this works so well.  The light really does feel harsh, the colors saturated under it.  Moments like the scene with the minature city really make you appreciate what an atmospheric, textured comic this is.

Batman #5 is a triumph on every level, with the whole creative team delivering astounding work.  If you haven’t been reading Batman, this is where you should jump on, and even if you have no plans of reading Batman monthly, I’d recommend buying this issue in particular, as I imagine it’s going to become a hot commodity before long.  If you have been reading Batman, you should feel vindicated.  I’ve been enjoying this title immensely, and I already said with last issue that it has become my favourite DC book.  And yes, I’m aware it’s been widely critically acclaimed.  But I’ve also seen quite a bit of, “Not quite as good as The Black Mirror, but…” type comments.  This was in positive reviews, and it’s fair enough, as The Black Mirror has already entered the canon of all-time classic Batman stories.

With Batman #5, this story has now topped The Black Mirror.  If Snyder can keep up the quality, we’re looking at another all-time classic.  I’m expecting Batman #6 to finally break this streak of this title constantly outdoing itself, because I genuinely think you can’t top a comic as good as Batman #5.  But all the same, I expect it to be great, and the third week of February can’t come fast enough.