Review: WE(L)COME BACK #1

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WE(L)COME BACK #1
Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, Carlos Zamudio, Shawn Aldridge
Published by BOOM! Studios
Release Date: August 19, 2015

I’ve been meaning to read something written by Christopher Sebela for a while now. The premise for High Crimes sounded really great but when I had the time, I didn’t have the money or vice versa, so it just kind of slipped out of my fingers. I still mean to read it one day, and I was pleased to hear I’d get another opportunity to try out his writing in We(l)come Back–only to find that it was the art that had really stolen the show for me.

Just to catch you up, We(l)come Back is about, in short, “reincarnated assassins in an eternal war hunting each other through life after life.” If that’s not enough to get you on board, that’s okay, because when you see the actual pages, you’ll want to read it anyway.

The art is gorgeous from the first scene and the first panel. In the opening, we find ourselves in 13th century Japan, where two characters (presumably samurai) are at the end of a sword fight on a beach nearby a huge wreckage of boats. There’s a lot of detail in the lines and which go extra mile for atmosphere. The sails are ruined, lines are flying everywhere, and the sea is gurgling and churning around them on the shore. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s really the wind that breathes the panel to life. There are these almost-chalky white lines that are simple but really effectively wake up the whole work. The reader is just on the edge of hearing the waves crash, feeling the wind blow–and like I said, that’s just panel one.

As you continue through the work, there are also some really interesting panel layouts in terms of shape, angle, and perspective. My favorite one is actually a “panel” that breaks off from the rest and lays on top, fully out of dimension with the rest of the page, and looks down on the protagonist in bed with her dog. These are things only comics can do and are therefore my favorite things when they happen.

The splash pages are also something. There are two two-page spreads and one that I would make an argument for being a splash too, despite it just being one page. Each set pieces ebbs and flows into the next, but is done with such care that you feel like you want to take your time and really look at each one. I think the biggest misstep in the issue is one of the splashes where the reading direction is not immediately intuitive, meaning you might read it in the wrong order (and then realize because otherwise it doesn’t make sense.) I think this happens because the vertical gutter separating four panels from another four is really wide, and gives the impression that those four are meant to be read together–when in fact, you are meant to read across them. Small detail, but it is something that will likely give readers some pause.

The colors and effects are also impeccable. I really appreciated seeing the little manga influences that crept into the book. There are chunky lines that appear around characters’ heads to signify surprise and little green bubbles that point to confusion, drunkenness, or somewhere in between. It’s nice to see this kind of stuff start to happen in Western comics and is evident of manga’s strong influence on this generation of comics creators. Meanwhile, the colors are bold and evocative in every scene. I love the purples and the reds and the oranges and the everything, really. What’s more, the work displays an excellent handle on gradients/blending and communication of light.

The writing is definitely good, but not quite as strong as the art. I want to get ahead of this now, because I’m about to say a lot of things that make it sound as though I didn’t like the writing, but actually: I did. In fact, I think it’s kind of impressive just by itself that I still liked reading this issue even though I recognized quite a few flaws in its execution. None of the things I saw were dealbreakers, but instead, things that held the book back from being a ‘great’ issue, rather than a ‘good’ one.

I read the issue twice. The first time normally, reading everything. The second time, I read only the dialogue and ignored the captions except when absolutely necessary (e.g., settings, translations, conversations) As I suspected, the second read was a much tighter version and I missed relatively little. I’ll admit, I’m pretty funny about captions. So often, I find that they are used (a) to write about what we already see on the page or (b) for characterization when that can largely be gleaned through action. For this issue, I think there was quite a bit of (b).

Some of the captioning work is great and poignant, but the vast majority needed much more restraint. What we learn about the protagonist’s backstory through the captions in the early scenes is then, much more fluidly, elaborated upon in the next scene with her roommate. The same is true for her personality. Voice-over captions can be great when the protagonist or the protagonist’s voice is truly unusual, but that’s not quite the case here. Yes, the circumstances in her life are definitely interesting, but the captions elaborating upon a teenaged/early twenties protagonist who feels alone and heals her hurts by partying? Not so much. There’s nothing wrong with having a protagonist whose schtick is less than original, but the use of a narrative device that only trumpets that lack of originality is definitely a misstep. You want the readers eyes on what is different and special about this book, not what isn’t.

I also struggled to find some of the scenes believable, as they seemed more like set pieces to establish character and relationship than actual things that a protagonist in her position would do. For example, we’re meant to understand that the lead character has been regularly harassed by certain people for several years–but also still reads the mail they send and ultimately burns it. I don’t get the sense that this is a thing she does often; instead, it reads like a scene I’m supposed to see so I, the reader, know that it’s something she regularly deals with. I had a similar feeling with a scene involving a fight with her boyfriend. The scenarios feel too convenient–as in, there for me, the reader, to understand things–and just a touch forced.

Still, with all my complaints, a lot of these problems do improve as the issue goes on. In the later pages of the first issue, the captions become more useful/efficient and we start to see the protagonist become something other than her initial characterization. There is enough positive growth within the issue that I’m not as worried about seeing these same problems in the second installment–if only because the narrative direction seems to be moving us away from characterizing/backstory-revealing captions and more into the thing that is most appealing about the writing of the book: a really compelling mystery and concept.

Everything in this issue is building towards our understanding of this reincarnated-assassin-war and the more details and scenes we get, the better everything is. I want to know what this whole war is all about, because what I have seen of it is incredibly interesting and engaging. I’m completely drawn into the rules of this war and the small glimpses we’ve seen of its ultimate consequences. Something really big and really cool is being built here and I finished this issue wanting to know what it was.

We(l)come Back #1 is an absolutely gorgeous-looking comic–beautiful line art, strong colors, great effects–whose writing I think will soon grow to match its visual elements. The concept is incredibly strong and the execution, though, somewhat flawed, still has more than enough legs to make a reading of it really enjoyable. I know that sounds like I’m pulling for this book based on the ideas behind it rather than what’s actually on the page, but I think there is enough solid writing in this issue, especially as we delve deeper into the concept itself, that it’s well-worth a reader’s time.

The Verdict: 8.0/10

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