By Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer, and Rus Wooton
The ironic thing about loss is how much it stays with you. There’s the initial shock, the pangs of things turned upside down, and then there’s lingering grief. Even as time passes and we adapt to the new state of the way things are now, that loss never leaves you. Sometimes it inspires a yearning for revenge, a thirst to deliver all your pain unto whatever caused it to exist. Other times, there’s just a desire to keep moving on and let your pain be your own. Of course, sometimes there’s a mix of all of that and more. This is at the heart of Extremity and through the surviving members of one family, Daniel Warren Johnson examines the tolls both loss and revenge can take. And it is unequivocally beautiful.
Following an attack on their home, the Roto Clan suffers devastating losses. Extremity hones in on one Roto family specifically and in them, we come to understand the myriad of ways loss takes hold. For Jerome, the father and proud clan leader (dubbed “Abba” here), the murder of his wife at the hands of the Paznina during their attack has birthed in him an Ahab-like dedication to revenge. His son, Rollo, is excited more by books than the temerity of battle, yet still seeks the acceptance and reassurance of his father and the stability of their family. Finally, there’s Thea. She is the heart of the book and through her we see the tragedy of losing a home, a mother, a hand, and, most importantly, her identity. She was a talented artist before her hand was severed during the attack and now finds herself unsure of who she is or what she even truly wants. In only 24 pages of story, each of these characters has an established depth and personal tragedy. This is the brilliance of Johnson’s debut issue; we see the multitude of effects trauma and loss have through three different perspectives and the various extremes (get it?) they’re each willing to go to in order to cope.
If you’ve indulged in the out-there bonkers fun of his webcomic, Space-Mullet, or the madcap throttle fest of Ghost Fleet, then you’re familiar with frenetic energy inherent in DWJ’s work. Feathered brushes give way to speed lines and pulpy sinewy textures and his characters wear the heft of all their emotional baggage in every panel. In other words, it packs a wallop. Extremity #1 does all that and more. The art here is boundless; everything feels impossibly vast in scope while still being able to ground the participants in implacable humanity. Every tick of ink on a jacket and every dash of scratches trailing from a swimming axe bring weight and momentum to the world. It’s lived in. It’s brutal. It’s always moving. Johnson injects an elasticity into the characters that belies their heft and it’s there we can feel the true force and emotion. The Akira inspiration is undeniable; Extremity is simultaneously delicate and ruthless. It’s conscious enough to follow a relentless cornucopia of violence with a two-panel sequence in silhouette of its progenitor feeling the cost as she drops to her knees. It’s a beautiful balance throughout, where every action has an equal reaction both physical and emotional. Rarely is something so ugly so gorgeous to look at.
Much will be made of the world building, as well it should. Johnson thrusts us in to this fascinating anachronistic future setting with little in the way of explanation of how things work or how they came to be. There are cultural values hinted at through dress, ritual, and the identifying face paint. There are spaceships mingling with stone castles and armor with nary a gun to be found amongst the swords and axes. The land itself seemingly floats in the ether of this Game of Thrones by way of Akira landscape and the internal logic works because all of that is set dressing that begs to be doled out in pieces, while the real emotional anchor of the story reverberates throughout. A particular highlight is the tooth mask worn by Jerome that manages to inform the character and the world while also somehow being absolutely, disturbingly awesome. The design work at play is tremendous and a delight to explore and piece together like a mini-game all its own within the larger narrative of what it means to be whole again.
Mike Spicer was an inspired choice for colorist, particularly after his work on Head Lopper. Opening with an ashen haze atop his colors as we experience the flashback to the inciting event, Spicer then transitions to a more saturated application as the book enters the darker reality of where things stand now. Ably balancing flats with controlled light sources and there corresponding shadows, Extremity has rich depth thanks to Spicer. This is not a happy place, to say the least, and the palette larger reflects that with its ominous glows of alien greens and the indigo vastness of the landscape. There’s an uneasy sense of wonder instilled by his cooler palette in the establishing scenes, of a world not sure where it’s heading. Spicer handles the barrage of speed lines with aplomb as he utilizes warm gradients to reinforce movement outwards from their centers. Action scenes abandon the cool hues found in the quieter, introspective moments and instead plaster the page with in a cacophony of crimsons and tangerine. And the blood. My god, the blood. It’s a pulpy ensanguined mess in all its glory thanks to Spicer as he adds the texture you weren’t sure Johnson’s lines needed to make them extra gory until you saw them. Gross, you guys. Gross. Whether it was Spicer’s contribution or part of Johnson’s original design concept, the color palette for the main characters also bears mentioning as it highlights the righteous ambiguity of Jerome in his gray and neutrals, and establishes Thea in the traditional heroic primaries of red and blue.
The intentionally ineloquent lettering from Rus Wooton fits perfectly. The font has a raw scribble to its design that works with both the tone of the harsh reality these words are spoken in and the loose, sinewy look of Johnson’s line work. Balloons are well placed throughout, as dialogue is smartly economized, and allow the focus to comfortably shift from a brief exchange to a speeder bike in a natural flow.
Extremity #1 is an open-ended question: how far will you go? When everything, including the very things that define you, are taken away, what comes next? In a tempest of artistic ferocity and amidst a wondrous construction of a fantastical plane, it’s this examination of an emotional triad to those questions that hits hardest. Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer, and Rus Wooton have thrown down the gauntlet with this dazzling debut about loss, identity, and revenge.