Darwyn Cooke’s artwork in this comic is so cute and almost cartoonish in its style that you can easily forget just how coarse and disturbed the content that he is depicting can get. For those wondering at home the answer to just how is that this issue is the darkest story that I have read or seen in a long, long time. More shocking than that though is the fact that it isn’t even slightly depressing because of this, instead I loved it for the bleakness of the tales tone, the barrenness of its world and the beauty with which both are rendered.
Like a good horror movie the tragic tales told in this issue – which is fittingly titled War Stories – are as cathartic as they are corruptive because of their emotional core; they only hurt us because of how much they also make us care, just as the characters involved hurt even worse because of how much more they care. Sadness is perhaps the hardest emotion to evoke in an audience and the sorrow suggested by this book is almost tangible. I could – and will – try and explain how and why further, but first I’ll give Cooke a chance to set some context:
The series so far has spent a lot of time on the Silhouette and so when, in the first of the book’s brutal deaths, she dies that preordained death and the primary characters gather at her grave to remember it is drastically different than the funeral on which it is functionally based. Unlike Eddie Blake’s death in the original book this one we feel because we knew before it happened and because Hollis both knew her and, more than that, loved her in convincingly low-key way. Establishing this kind of love in each of the vignettes that follows is key to feeling the losses that come later, a kindness precedes each killing, and god if that doesn’t mean that they break you even more.
The line work by Cooke in this comic is also completely amazing; if you look at a single image his style and characters might look a little silly but in motion they are simply stunning and so evocative. This month though it wasn’t his contributions to the art that I liked most however, it was that of colorist Phil Noto. While I have had some issue with the technique in past issues, here the flickering between different plots through distinct colour filters is flawless. There are the obvious flashes of a starkly red-tinged Silhouette but for me it was the vivid pop-art technicolour of Sally and Eddie’s reunion by the grave fading into the almost flat and faded tones of his time in Guadalcanal that hit me viscerally; Gone With the Wind into Paths of Glory, beautiful stuff.
The biggest shock in this issue though is flicking back through it and realizing just how short some of these sequences really are: Sally Jupiter’s redemptive revenge begins and ends across a two page spread, The Comedian’s defining Vietnam conflict gets three of these but feels like a fully fledged feature in its own right – epic and yet lived in – and while the two spent on The Silhouette’s origin went by briefly it will likely haunt me for the longest of all. What Cooke manages to do with such a small amount of space, the journey’s that he takes us on – physically and emotionally – across the mere millimeters of A4 are astounding and put the more verbose people like myself to shame.
That I keep referring to this issue as a series of vignettes does it an injustice though because reading it for the first time it doesn’t feel that way, you don’t see that this – like the amazing issue of the original series – is simply a series of linked flashbacks by a graveside; they link and flow literally and thematically in a way that works to overcome that. And as well as standing on its own as an amazing anthology this issue also begins to tie together some of the ambiguously loose ends left by prior plots; ends that are only now revealed to be part of a longer string and not just tufts of loose narrative fluff.
Does it tie back perfectly into the original book? Does it lend new light to Moore’s magical tale? Who knows and to be honest who cares because the one that Cooke is telling here in this comic is amazing irregardless. All that I am interested in seeing is how strongly it the next two issues tie back to the former four, the way that they lend new light on the clues that Cooke has been hiding and whether or not there is a central thesis that arises in this climax to tie together the still disparate themes. All I know is this, as black as it may have been the brilliance of this issue has given me hope that Cooke will be able to do all this and more when those two issues do finally come.