By Christopher Sebela, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, Carlos Zamudio, and Shawn Aldridge
If you’re lost you can look – and you will find me. Time after Time. With a sword. Or a gun. Or maybe just with some hungry knuckles ready to eat a whole lot of face sandwiches. Time after time. Welcome to Welcome Back, a surprisingly grounded and relatable story about a vicious eternal war and the undying soldiers who are just waiting to wake up and get back into the fray. As inherently cool as this reincarnation kill-fest may sound, Christopher Sebela and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer most importantly shape those events around the idea of being lost and trying to identify yourself instead of being defined by what others assign you. Oh, and awesome dogs with awesome names. It’s Showtime.
There’s no winners in war, not really. There are assigned roles and sometimes enough people in those roles get to go back to a life that vaguely resembles the one they left that it can be called a win. But war changes a person, especially the soldiers who are trained to spill blood, end lives, and not ask questions. Sebela juxtaposes this level of inconvenient truth war commentary atop the all too familiar daily struggles of a 26 year-old dealing with life’s shit and trying to figure it all out. Sure, there’s the colorful bits of supernatural international intrigue and the inconvenient fact that her stepfather is an infamous serial killer, but Mali Quinn’s struggle to come up for air from the sea of whatever it is that makes up life is instantly engaging. Sebela puts us inside Mali’s head which is rife with indecision, drowning metaphors and ultimately, thousands of other lives. Those narrative captions do occasionally veer towards being a little too much “telling” as opposed to “showing” but there’s also a lot of necessary perspective to be found there that is clearly laying the groundwork for Mali’s undoubtedly manic new status quo in later issues. It quickly fades from the heavier exposition and sharply focuses on developing the character that serves as our “in” to this world because hell, who hasn’t felt like they were trapped in a life of compromise or the sole occupant of Loser City?
Sebela also playfully balances this familiar 20-something experience with not only the intrigue of this eternal war and the idea of Sequels (those soldiers who are reborn time and again to hunt their targets) but specifically the mindset of the Yin to Mali’s Yang, Tessa. Unlike the untethered Mali, Tessa is fiercely focused, confident and deadly. She knows her role because it’s been instilled in her since she was a child and it’s something she faithfully serves because, well, that’s the nature of the role. It’s through a lot of her dialogue that Sebela gets to throw out the myriad of ideas that make up the mystery of exactly what is going on in Welcome Back. She gets a little bombastic at times, but it certainly fits for now and Sebela is clearly having fun getting to play these two characters’ off each other. All together it has an Orphan Black vibe, this clever mix of mystery and unseen puppeteers manipulating a myriad of players.
Enough burying the lede; Jonathan Brandon Sawyer is a beast. Every page is loaded with depth and detail, but even more so, they’re alive with energy. Spattered inks, stipling, and an eye for texture entrench everything in a controlled coarseness that reinforces the harsh reality of it all. One would be remiss to call it raw, since it’s clearly meticulously crafted with nary a stray line for the sake of it, but there’s an indisputable scratch to the line work that’s not only a perfect match for the tone, it sets the tone.
if the opening page doesn’t impress you (it should) then the double-page splash that JBS unloads immediately after most definitely will. It’s a serpentine fever dream of ensanguined brutality and it’s worth pouring yourself into for several minutes to fully appreciate. It’s not just the surreal moments either that captivate, the mundanity of a walk home through from the coffee shop is full of palpable grit and rank, and the establishing splash of a house party is instantly recognizable as the type of fun-meets-squalor setting so many of us may recall. More than anything, what impresses most are the page layouts, specifically how the perspectives flip round to not only provide a full view of the surrounds, but to create a rhythmic flow. It’s effortless to keep up with and the double-page splash of the party is a hilarious and effective journey that plays with time wonderfully; the entire party plays out over the course of those two pages, tucked neatly underneath the sprawling quasi-Where’s Waldo establishing shot. Panels tilt and angles zoom to increase the momentum at opportune times with a cinematographer’s skill and when coupled with the sharp yet loose expressionist style, it’s infectiously appealing.
Considering this is a dark issue dealing with dark things mostly in the darkness of night, Carlos Zamudio’s colors still manage to pop and enhance their surrounds. It’s a wide swath of hues used in the palette, but Zamudio keeps the tones relatively understated throughout, but when he ups the saturation it’s wonderfully eye-cataching. The Lisbon sunset is aglow in blood oranges, the 80’s magenta collars are richly framed by the darkening blood spatter, and the sickly green highlights washing over alonely girl in bed next to her comprise of a boyfriend is appropriately reminiscent of the vast expanses of the sea floor. Nothing here is radically experimental nor is it garish; it’s subtle and smooth. Zamudio knows when to turn it on and when to play it cool and it’s a real asset to the overall experience.
Welcome Back is full of surprises; a coming of age tale run delightfully amok through blood soaked supernatural eternal war. Even though her life is about to get a lot more unique, this debut issue firmly establishes her as someone real, someone who is made up of parts of everyone who’s never been able to figure out exactly what it is they’re supposed to be doing. Some extraneous exposition aside, Sebela has made presented an enticing concept that urges you to return and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer’s art needs to be seen. The futility of war, the questionable unquestioning role of the soldier, the struggle to find a place in a world where a bunch of murder fetishizers keep sending you letters, and the best damn guard dog in the world; there’s a plethora of places, themes, and impossibilities Welcome Back will likely explore, but for now, issue #1 is a welcomed sight to behold.
[For more insight into Welcome Back and more, be sure to check out the All-Comic Interviews with Christopher Sebela]