By Frank J. Barbiere, Victor Santos, and Dylan Todd
Once again, Image Comics produces a high quality comic series seemingly by simply allowing the creators to do what they do best. Give this series a try and you’ll see by the end of the first issue thatViolent Love is made out of a passion for telling stories in this medium specifically. Now available in its first collected trade paperback, this is your chance to catch up on what has become a title of note, which comes complete with a ton of supplemental material — sketches, layouts, character design — it’s all there. The result is an enjoyable experience cover to cover with five complete issues in between.
Violent Love is as much a pure example of the crime genre as it is a masterfully executed comic book. Art and storytelling from the schools of Darwyn Cooke (Parker) and Frank Miller (Sin City) with a sense of realism worthy of an Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips collaboration (Criminal). It’s the story of circumstances and consequences based on irrational decision-making that comes along with a life of crime and human relationships. However, the characters here became mixed up in their respective and collective situations, and the tale is told mostly at a thriller’s pace. Despite the pace, there’s still plenty of drama and enough backstory for a fully formed universe.
Accomplished comic book writer Frank J. Barbiere (Five Ghosts) takes the scenic approach to this project, with a thematic touch. Large panels that provide a sense of presence and magnitude eventually give way to quick cuts and sharp edits, which create a sense that anything can happen. When and if you grow more comfortable with Barbiere’s style of writing here, you’ll no doubt learn to control your own emotional responses with the proper ebb and flow between drama and action. His dialogue is on-point and character specific, giving each person not only their own characteristics, but their own purpose as well. Thanks to his ability to craft an ideal crime story, Barbiere’s style lets you know who you can trust, who you can’t, and who lands in the middle. It’s a fun story and one that never holds back in terms of uneasy loyalties, flat-out betrayals, and shear violent mayhem.
The storytelling sensibilities go well beyond traditional while obviously building onto a foundation steeped in nostalgia. Creative and compelling panel arrangements keep pages fresh and unique. Layouts spell out the chaotic nature dictated by any one scene while equally conveying a sense of calm when the story calls for it. Whether depicting action or drama, the artwork is constantly in line with the story in what at times feels like a single voice that grabs your attention and holds it firm. If not for a desire to see what will happen next, you’ll find yourself wanting to pause and absorb the nuance between words and imagery. And that’s the beauty of the collected trade — you can enjoy it as a single piece of work and have the chance to sit with it over a period of time. A single piece of art as well, with a complementary book design and a true brand identity throughout thanks to designer, Dylan Todd (Motro). There’s a steady tone in the book’s chapter breaks, cover design, and extra pages that comes off like a subdued flare. Love when combined with violence, after all, is fleeting and confused. At any rate, the thematic qualities to the overall design harmonize perfectly with the interior illustration by artist Victor Santos (Polar).
Santos offers readers a dynamically visual experience that softens the blow, so to speak, when the action increases to bloodbath degrees. He never misses the opportunity to show the artfulness of his style, with multiple small panel close-ups interspersed between the actual shots. Think of it as a chance to see each and every movement without ever taking away from the overall mechanics of the sequence of events. Santos draws illustrations with a dream-like intensity that makes for a hyper real world. Colors create visual cues that guide our reactions without handholding and they’re all done in a way that increases your investment in the story. Painterly effects combined with delicate lines outlining bold, deep blacks allows each scene and each character actual presence with movement and fluidity that overrules the fact that these are still images. You’d swear it was an animated feature or a live action movie, although thanks to Santos’ work you’ll never forget it’s a quality comic with the most classic of undertones.
Fast paced when it wants to be and even-keeled when it needs to be, Violent Love strikes a fine balance between multiple storylines that help to inform readers with a semblance of order. In a world of creator-owned and creator-driven properties, Violent Love stands out as a worthwhile effort that doesn’t disappoint and stays true to itself all the while. For as much story as you get here, there’s no doubting that this is only the beginning, so grab the trade and see why this book has been garnering so much praise. Violent Love is an excellent crime story and a masterfully produced comic book.