By Corey Fryia, Tony Gregori, Karim Whalen, Dana Franco, Sean Burres, Laura Lee, Joshua Jensen and Taylor Esposito
215 Ink has unleashed an all-new issue of Doctor Crowe and it is yet another masterful display of classic pulp comic book making. This remarkably talented team of creators has collected three more short stories for your reading enjoyment and its just as fun and exciting as ever. Despite new and original stories, this issue helps faithful readers find their comfort zone. That said, being at home with a character, or an entire universe for that matter, doesn’t mean the creators have become complacent. They have not. Instead it means the writers and artists of this successful comic have found a groove and may even be willing to take advantage of your comfort with new and engaging risks. Furthermore, when it comes to branding, familiarity is a good thing, and it’s refreshing to see in this third installment that Crowe is only getting better without sacrificing what has made this a solid title in the first place.
Thanks in part to the boiled down premise of each of the short stories, there’s always something to look at with plenty to admire on every single page. Readers are brought into the good Doctor’s adventures as the action begins to heat up, and sometimes right smack in the middle of a dilemma. There’s no time spent on the build up, beyond the book’s regular introduction to the main character, which means there’s no time wasted on heavy exposition. That’s both a good and bad thing, because even though we may want to get right down to the spectacle of it all, the production quality is so good that you’ll easily want to know more about, and see more of, this entire world and it’s inhabitants.
To be an artist on a title like this may well be a dream come true. Over the course of the three adventures — The White City, The Lost Coven or Hell’s Hounds — illustrators Tony Gregori, Karim Whalen and Dana Franco sink their teeth right into the meat of their respective comics. It’s not always easy to introduce a setting, present the crisis and then wrap it all up in a limited number of pages, but these artists are up for the task. They present only the best moments and still know exactly when to crank up the storytelling dial for maximum impact. In The White City, Gregori expertly leads the story into deeper and darker territory with near claustrophobic surroundings so that just prior to the action, we can almost feel the anxiety heighten in each panel. While in the second part, The Lost Coven, Karim Whalen leaves matters exposed out in the open, but never loses that exact same sense of having no way out. By the time Dana Franco comes along with the final chapter, Hell’s Hounds, even though the confines of Doctor Crowe’s situation are tighter than ever, we know he’ll manage somehow, and so it’s a suitable moment to sit back and relax while events play out. From page to page these artists draw amazing scenes that lend to the book’s overall sense of scope. Just goes to show, that with the right talent onboard dangerous isolation can lead to some of the most dramatic and spectacular outcomes. The backgrounds are as important as the characters, and in fact each story has a setting equally as relative. Scenery shares the weight with carefully illustrated people and monsters alike, some we’ve never met before, and most we may never see again. No detail is discarded even though the concept is that these stories are over as quickly as they began. Best of all, each artist, though they clearly have their own artistic voices, brings a sensible consistency throughout so that readers are never distracted from the plot.
Thanks to these condensed chapters, the individual colorists can hone in a single tone for the sake of theme, although color choices do just as much to differentiate between the stories too. Well thought out palettes do more than guide the reader of course, they provide emotional cues that balance your perspective from one chapter to the next. Vivid greens, haunting grays and fiery burst of yellow and orange strike chords in our minds that allow us a connection worthy of well-written fiction such as this. And, as was the case with the illustrators, colorists Sean Burres, Laura Lee and Joshua Jensen maintain a cohesive look and feel while staying true to their own stylistic abilities. As rich in color as it is in context, this is a standout book through and through.
In this particular universe there seems to be no end to the number of horrible missions awaiting our hero. Without fail, Crowe takes on the greatest and most mysterious challenges only to leave the world better off. But what does that really mean in a world full of evil threats put forth by both seen and unseen forces of darkness? Is it possible that what appears to exist only at the fringes of reality may be seeping into the normal world more and more with each issue? Creator Corey Fryia writes each installment with a dynamism that leaves us intrigued in every way, but also reminds us that this is his book and he’s in control. Not only are we immediately curious as to what Doctor Crowe is currently up to, but also what each of his encounters means for the future of his universe as well as the series itself. Are seeds being planted by means of subtle foreshadowing, as the end of some chapters may suggest? Whether you find yourself reading into the details, or merely enjoying the ride, Fryia has a plan that comes across as intentional while putting the majority of focus on the action of the moment. In just three issues, you could already look back and marvel at the amount of chaos that has been put to rest by Doctor Crowe, making him one busy champion. With seemingly limitless ideas — and as fun as it may be to read these newest stories — we once again have to wonder, what will Fryia cook up next?
The writing and dialogue are only further enhanced with artful lettering, courtesy of Taylor Esposito. One has to wonder why his name isn’t included on the cover when he’s seemingly the only person involved, besides Corey Fryia, with a credit on each story within. Esposito is clearly a valuable member to this team, and he’s more than earned his position as full time letterer. The design of Doctor Crowe makes it readable while the lettering keeps things legible, which is something to be grateful for in a book filled with so much intensity.
Will we ever get a full-length story or perhaps even a mini series style story arc? Are these first few issues merely a foundation for a greater concept? What amounts to a natural desire for more content doesn’t really mean there needs to be anything more than what this book already is: an excellent batch of nostalgia-laced comics utilizing a variety of rock solid talent. You may want more, but it’s impossible to complain about Doctor Crowe in this anthology style format. Short stories and glimpses into a larger world can be as good as anything else and in this case — especially on a new release rack chock-full of options —happens to be a fairly unique move.