By Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley, and Thomas Mauer
Like an heretofore unknown bio-luminescent alien being, Copperhead continues to hypnotically lure you in deeper and deeper mesmerizing you with its fluorescent beauty hiding an ugly and raw body. Faerber, Godlewski, Riley and Mauer need to knock it off because this book is getting terrifyingly greater with each successive outing. Gorgeously haunting neon-infused colors mesh with a true Western small-town tale that is becoming increasingly complex atop a science-fiction action canvas to deliver yet another phenomenal issue. The cast is more situated, the scenery is ready to be further explored and an abundance of secrets from both the past and present are beginning to bubble to the dusty surface of Jasper. Giddy up.
Benjamin Hickory, that Boss Hogg-looking son of a gun, gets put in his place not once, but twice this issue to the delight of everyone with a sense of basic human decency. After failing to intimidate and/or negotiate with Clara he attempts to go well over her head and contact her Lieutenant at HQ only to be verbally burned so badly there won’t be enough aloe in all of Jasper to soothe it. It’s clear though, as it was from the first time we saw him, that Hickory will be a persistent thorn in the side of Copperhead’s newest sheriff. What’s unclear is how far he’s willing to go to. Clara meanwhile, is much more firmly entrenched in solving the Sewell murders. Boo let’s her in on what Zeke revealed about the Swavash last issue and immediately goes into lock-and-load mode. With the Sheriff (with two “f”) engaged in her manhunt, Boo is left to respond solo to a breaking and entering call that turns into a rooftop chase complete with blinking shoulder police lights and fence smashing.
The amount of restraint Faerber is exhibiting should be commended. Surely he must be as excited to tell, as the readership is to see, some background on that lovable grump Boo or the history of the scarred and stern Ishmael. But instead, Faerber coolly lets the tension build to a point only to reveal the most miniscule, yet immensely satisfying, bit of information on both these characters – both through great visual accoutrement. What really gnaws at the reader most though, is the way Faerber is driving a wedge between mother and son. It’s subtle and gradual, but there’s a tinge of heartbreak being hinted at. Pay special attention to the two panel sequence of Clara pulling her hand away after Zeke holds it. Ooof. The dialogue is mostly sharp and any clichéd quips are often solely in-line with paying homage to its influences. Faerber is telling a slow burn Western-steeped genre mystery but introducing radically diverse elements at a blistering pace.
Look at this book. Just look at it. You should probably read it, too, but you’d be getting your full money’s worth if you just visually swam through the phenomenal work of Godlewski and Riley. Tight as ever, Godlewski’s pencils continue to so much with so little when it comes to facial details and his page layouts continue to successfully dictate the story pacing through creative, angular panel borders overlapping at various stages. The culmination of Boo’s chase sequence is particularly well done, cutting and stuttering and falling at a rapidly increased pace. A heavily rained-upon landscape gives Godlewski the opportunity to lay on some heavy inks to great effect as well. The only very minor misstep is an awkward sequence when the doctor says he’s calling the sheriff only to have the next panel have Boo seemingly appear immediately. Either time passed and Boo received the call or no time passed and Boo was already at the location, it isn’t entirely clear and is a rare moment of miscommunication. But it’s penciled damn well in either case. Ron Riley continues to be as large a part of this book’s success as anyone. Like a wonderful experiment in black light technology, the phosphor-infused greens, fuchsias and electric blues he instills on every page hum with energy. Contrast is much more plentiful in this issue, with a great deal of it taking place at night, so Riley really has some fun with lighting effects and eerie glowing colors. This tandem keeps on delivering the stunning graphical experience that makes Copperhead the unique, have to see to believe book that it is.
Really, not a ton happens this issue to drive the “who-killed-the-Sewells” plot forward, but that’s exactly what makes it so enjoyable. Instead of running full steam ahead into capturing the desperado who did this, Faerber and co. delight in building this little mining town into a science-fiction haven and laying the groundwork for what will surely be inter-personal conflict between these nascent characters. The action and character development alternate like a mosey to a sprint leaving the atmospheric dust lingering long enough to relish every page. This is shaping up to be a special book, one that reckons to be a hell of ride on a trip-fantastic of a horse.