Written by Noel Clarke | Art by Joshua Cassara | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 32pp
Rather like the cash-in games for popular films, a ‘celebrity’ writer often sends a cold shiver down the spine, as you know that often a publisher is simply hoping the celebrity’s name will outweigh any inevitable shortcomings. That being said, I was a bit more optimistic with Noel Clarke being the ‘celebrity’ writer, and with the obviously discerning editorial team at Titan Comics. Noel Clarke, for those unfamiliar with him, is a talented British screenwriter/ actor/director, probably best known as the recurring character Mickey Smith in Doctor Who.
To say we jump straight in is something of an understatement. Clarke’s screenwriting chops are clearly evident from the very start, as we get a very cinematic, very violent beginning as some heavily armed soldiers attempt to capture and/or kill a girl with superhuman abilities. This very adult violence is tonally matched throughout, with both male and female full frontal nudity. None of it feels gratuitous though, Clarke is showing us a hard world, a real world, where bad things can happen to good people. It’s certainly not a lighthearted funny book, but more a HBO show masquerading as a comic book, so much so I wonder if it began life as a TV or movie pitch. That medium’s loss is our gain if so.
The girl we discover is Terrain, able to turn into rock (a bit like the Thing from the Fantastic Four, but able to change between stone and skin at will. Also better looking). Although Clarke doesn’t want to give away all his secrets too early we discover the man who stepped in and helped her escape is doing it to avert a prophecy of some sort, and is tracking superhumans. This scene setter leads into two more origin stories, one of a young girl who escapes from an abusive father using her unique ability/ gift to make people ill, or sick, and a young guy who can generate heat and fire, and does so quite a lot, leaving quite the trail of bodies behind him. Both keep up the violence levels as well, making their stories suitably tragic.
By the end of the issue, the 3 superhuman characters and the male rescuer of Terrain have all met and bonded into a pseudo-family, though unknown to them the worst is yet to come. This is a tremendous first issue in general, but Clarke’s writing is superb. Hard-hitting, adult but cleverly constructed, well-dialogued and nicely paced. Clarke drip feeds us enough to gain our interest, but is clearly keeping plenty back to make us return next month, again just like an episodic TV show. There are clearly elements of the X-Men and Fantastic Four here, but taken to adult extremes and depicted with a brutal realism.
The other huge factor in this being such a strong start is the art, which is fantastic. Cassara does some of the best layouts I have seen in a while, and you can feel the bones crunching in his action sequences. Stone-skinned ladies, armoured suits, SWAT style soldiers, or even just normal looking characters, he nails the lot. He even makes the nudity look classy, no easy feat. Perfect complement to the strong scripting by his creative partner.
This is good stuff. A very good first issue, but one that promises a lot more to come. If you like your comics a little on the adult side, with exceptional writing and art, you’ve come to the right place.