The Return No One Clamored for, Coming With a Smile and a Shrug

Here I am again, writing about comics. Here goes:

providence-1_record

Providence #1
Art by Jacen Burrows and Juan Rodriguez
Writing by Alan Moore
Published by Avatar

In Providence, nothing is evident. Jacen Burrows illustrates post-Great War Americana in dapper garb and attentive poise. His people are reserved, stiff upper lip types (even the talkative ones), clinging to secrets and projecting an image of themselves. Alan Moore’s dialogue stresses privacy: when Midwest transplant Robert Black remembers getting his job at a New York paper, his new boss tells him “Your private life is, of course, your own affair. Just keep it away from work.” Later, on assignment, he encounters a doctor with a peculiar medical condition explaining a theory of a hidden America made up of everyone’s secrets.

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What becomes unsettling about Providence is how readers are never made privy to these secrets. Not in the sense of information being revealed explicitly. It’s in details: the way a character’s breath isn’t shown in a freezing room, how shadows of branches slither across a brownstone, or what’s said in conversations picked up mid sentence. Robert’s minor brush with weirdness runs parallel with another, seemingly inconsequential tale: a man tearing up letters, then spending an afternoon in a secluded building in a park. The connecting tissue is revealed at the end, of course, but in a revelatory pause, from which the reader fills in the implication.

providence-1_cold

Robert himself is an enigma, bookish and curious. Back matter journal aside, Moore never reveals much of his internal life. When ending a relationship, his lover (presumably in tears) describes him as cold, as if there is nothing inside him. Barrows constantly frames Robert from the first-person perspective of others, even during his own flashbacks (sepia-toned by Juan Rodriguez). He’s the outsider, being eyed by someone or something probing into his own piece of the secret America.

Lady Killer #5
Art by Joëlle Jones and Laura Allred
Writing by Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich

lady-killer-5_hallway

A pretty textbook example of the phrase “every comic is someone’s first comic”: the fifth and final issue of a mini-series which functions well enough as its own individual unit. Jamie Rich and Joëlle Jones smartly allow the tale–of an assassin dressed as a stewardess, going after the man who put a hit out on her–to unfold, assuming readers who haven’t read the previous four issues (*raises hand*) will keep up. In addition to allowing breathing space for speed line-heavy fights and Jones’ artistic flourishes (including a film reel opening drawn like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon), this sidesteps the logorrheic tendency in adventure comics towards exposition, instead showing how Josie (the assassin) navigates around obstacles. In one instance, Josie pursues a target through a crowd at the Seattle World’s Fair, only to run into her husband, Gene, and their two children.

lady-killer-5_gene

She’s surprised, but not in the manner he’s thinking. Her attempts to gracefully slip away and finish her mission are cut off by Gene’s well-meant attempt at being a supportive, progressive spouse. It’s a light, humorous touch, dialogue and layouts as brisk and efficient as a hallway brawl a few pages later. It’s a typical action scene, but one crafted with the understanding of its purpose at informing character while keeping momentum. When Josie confronts her aggressor, demanding an end to the situation, it’s understood clearly what the stakes are for her. The relatively low ambitions of the material are elevated by the skill of its execution.

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