By Frank J. Barbiere and Victor Santos
This is gonna be a good one.
Writer and co-creator of the supernatural-adventure comic book, Five Ghosts, Frank J. Barbiere, teams up with internationally renowned artist and creator of the acclaimed Polar, Victor Santos. It would be an understatement to say that these two collaborators have what it takes to create original comic stories with real selling power, and their latest book, Violent Love, may prove that through and through. Billed as a “Crime Romance”, the first issue from Image Comics comes screaming out of the gate with a gritty and unrelenting story of graphic violence and moving drama. It’s an origin story, of sorts, told from a present-day perspective through flashbacks that allow for a kind of storybook feel. The hook is the way that feel contrasts with the blood-soaked reality of the history of two lovers on a crime-spree. That contrast is not as sharp as you may think, although there is an undeniable and intentional shift in tone between certain scenes. Even in the more shocking moments, these creators make for a smooth and gradual build in conflict so that even the quietest scenes contain a sense of dread.
There’s a great story here with detail and character development that will keep readers as engaged as they may be shocked. Crime comics, like always, hold what could be described as a reliable position in the comics industry and Violent Love seems to build on some of the best elements from the genre in order to make something unique. This isn’t necessarily an homage to the classic Bonnie and Clyde story, and it’s not a take on the storytelling methods reminiscent of David Lapham’s Stray Bullets, but it just may owe something to both of those and more. It’s one thing to borrow elements from a particular genre, but it’s a far more admirable move to build on it and make something more out of it, something new and refreshing. Barbiere has realistic, even memorable, dialogue and he writes in a manner that makes you feel like a fly on the wall of a personal, private conversation. As readers we learn more about the characters and the story through that subtle invasion of privacy whether their actions are out in the open or kept hidden. It’s interesting how both violence and love can sometimes come to us easily, but has potential to get very complicated very quickly. Both themes have emotional aspects that make us want to broadcast the results, almost heroically, and others that tend to remain intimate or secret. This book just may raise some interesting questions the more we read, and we may end up drawing more lines connecting similarities between violence and love than we thought existed before.
That exploration of themes stays intact in the artwork as much as the writing, thanks to Victor Santos, who brings a style combining the best of Darwyn Cooke and Frank Miller. Just look at the cover to this first issue and you’ll no doubt see the stylistic imagery that makes books like Cooke’s Catwoman or Miller’s Sin City so attractive to comics fans. Santos’ images are thoughtful, and painterly with intricate panel arrangements that use both modern and classic sensibilities. There’s a genuine illustrative design with hefty doses of graphic intensity going from a charming, even whimsical style that melds into pure gangster meanness. Even the color, typically bright and saturated, turns to a brownish grey stained with shades of red when the action turns ugly. Despite the shift in tone, it’s the same story and we understand that this world, as familiar as it may seem at first, has dark places that could exist behind any door and around every corner. Violent Love just might find that it’s most successful quality is in embracing that contrast thoroughly. At the end of the day, however, it’s a great comic book and a solid entry into the genre.
“Crime Romance”, violence and love — describe it how you wish, Violent Love is a book that focuses on the recklessness of human beings and the consequences of actions driven by emotions rather than clear thinking. It’s both exciting and cringe-worthy, but definitely worth adding to your pull list, especially if you’re looking for reliability in comics outside of superhero books. Once again Image relies on top creators to produce quality books and we can’t wait to see what happens next month in Violent Love. Will the book continue to build on the Crime genre, or will it become increasingly familiar? Will there be more similarities with other titles and creators out there already, or will it become even more unique and original? These are some of the critical questions to keep in mind as the series progresses, whether we’re entertained or not, but if issue #1 is any indication, readers will likely be satisfied and then some.
Violent Love #1 will be released November 9th from Image Comics