By Ed Brisson, Adam Gorham, Michael Garland, and Tom Muller
Pour yourself a stiff one. No, a real hard one. Take a drag off that cigarette, too because this is going to be rough. You see, The Violent #1 hits hard. Ed Brisson, Adam Gorham, Michael Garland, and Tom Muller do their damnedest to plunge you into the mire of what it means to survive against a city that seemingly doesn’t want you and a life you fight against every damn day. The Violent #1 is about messing up and what it costs you. It’s about taking responsibility for messing up, but then going ahead and messing up again because you think that’s your lot in life. Or worse, you think you deserve. Or worst, because you like it. When you’re done with this issue, you’re going to want to go ahead and pour yourself another one.
Ed Brisson’s script is just beautifully paced, giving you all the depressing, dark, and painful muck in medically-precise doses. It’s not noir; it’s Breaking Bad but messier and grittier. Think about that for a second. Brisson performs the Ludovico technique on the reader and forces you to watch Mason, our protagonist, and his family drive themselves into a brick wall. You can see it happening and the impact isn’t lessened at all. It starts with a slow burn where Brisson lets the art do all the talking and proceeds to deliver a day in the life that moves even keeled down a spiral of muck until it culminates in the only way it can for Mason: brutally shitty. Some of it by his own hand and some of it by society’s, Brisson doesn’t just revel in the street-level grit of the story, but subtlety presents questions throughout.
Beyond that perfectly executed structure, with its crescendos of outbursts and its diminuendos of tension-rich silence, Brisson’s scripting here is examining what it means to really struggle. It’s a struggle against an addiction, a struggle to make ends meet, a struggle to do the right thing, and a struggle to fight back that part of oneself that says “give up.” The sum of these parts is harsh and unforgiving in its honesty. Brisson introduces ideas here that explore the elements of what drive people to desperation: economics, culture, something inherent, something learned? Brisson’s script plants us firmly in a grim reality and weaves a compelling, hard to watch but can’t take your eyes off of, series of events of a man, his family, their decisions, and the subsequent consequences.
Adam Gorham and Michael Garland: you shall know their velocity! Gorham and Garland are a formidable duo and The Violent #1 is a hell of a showcase for them. This book carries a weight with it, not just in the subject matter, but in its visuals. His inks are used heavily and add that extra grunginess to every fold of fabric and every pothole. They’re often applied in a scratchy manner and add all the attitude that’s found in the darkest of city alleys. There’s heft to the characters and the surroundings that appropriately grounds it at a familiar, if not dark, street level. Gorham excels at communicating fluid movement (as he did in Dead Drop so successfully) and while there’s plenty of that here, he really impresses with how he brings this world to life.
This is in part due to his smart layouts which never stray into anything experimental, but are implemented with precision to set a scene and a tone. Establishing shots give the biggest glimpses, sure, but Gorham packs a lot detail into backgrounds and then plays with perspective angles to give a 360-degree understanding of where the foreground narrative takes place. You know that Mason steals some milk and then punches the clerk in an exciting, visceral two-page sequence, but you also know what the rest of that street looks like and what condition the ceiling of the store is and how far the graffiti mural is and . . . you get the idea. This is a living world and it’s been given to you so carefully you didn’t even realize it. It’s like you stepped into a Grand Theft Auto game except the fun has been replaced with the depressing reality of those circumstances.
Hammering home the grit in beautiful fashion are Michael Garland’s colors, which incorporate a great palette despite the darker tone of the book. Right in line with what Gorham establishes, his colors establish this as a fully populated world without losing their value in overly shadowed applications. There’s a haunting, cool atmosphere to the majority of the scenes, which aside from being appropriate for the night-time setting, convey a sense of hopelessness. It’s soothing, but empty. There’s a living world and yet there’s a sense that you’re all alone. Garland employs an array of application techniques to add texture to the rare flora and grizzled fauna, and he takes the whole palette to a haunting violet peak in a sequence involving Becky, a dealer, and one very ripped mutt. The blending is superb and his choice to reverse the contrasting effect by having the background drop all color and shift to just the figures is very effective and seen again in the issues’ conclusion. Garland and Gorham are a tenacious tandem, dead set on bringing this world to life in all its brutality.
The Violent #1 is a gorgeous, ruthless debut. Only one issue in, this is on par with any Brubaker/Phillips work in terms of tone and execution, but somehow even more perfectly painful in scope. It’s a pleasure to work your way through it, just be prepared to get bruised up as you do. How do you do the right thing when you’re not sure there is one for you? How about when you’re not sure you want to? We all get desperate at times and we’ve all had to survive in our own way; Brisson, Gorham, and Garland take that to extremes without ever leaving the cold, unforgiving ground. Oooof, let’s pour one more.