The Violent #1
Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Adam Gorham and Michael Garland
Lettering by Ed Brisson
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Whether it truly earns the moniker of “Vancouver’s poorest postcode” is the subject of some debate, but the Downtown Eastside area of the Canadian city is known for its poverty and drug addiction. The global economic downturn of the last few years has done nothing to lower property prices the world over, and the poor still struggle to afford the basics. It’s in this environment that Sheltered’s Ed Brisson lays his latest scene, and going by this first issue, things are going to get a whole lot more grim before they start to get better.
Brisson starts with a pair of fully-formed characters, both living on the edge of economic oblivion. Mason is an ex-con, and we only gets whiffs of his past through conversations with his wife Becky, who in turn is trying to stay “clean” so she can look after their young daughter. They both work minimum wage jobs that don’t even necessarily pay that minimally on time. It’s a familiar tale that we’ve seen a number of times across multiple media outlets, but what Brisson does here is personalize it by presenting us with characters that are neither good nor bad. They are just products of their circumstances, not so much victims as they are impotent to act in an uncaring system. The couple argues and makes up just as quickly, while Mason lashes out violently and robs a convenience store, only to guiltily throw away his ill-gotten gains immediately after.
The Violent is a bold experiment in many respects, as it is a purely character-driven piece where dramatic things happen, but the chief antagonists are the leads battling with their own circumstances. There is a horrible sense of foreboding that pervades every inch of this issue, as we see relentless signs of people and places that are trying to tempt them back into a life of crime and drugs. Becky meets an old drug dealer ‘friend’ who tempts her with a free sample, while Mason can’t help but go and collect a drunk friend with predictable results. Presented by Brisson in this fashion, it’s no less of a hero’s journey than any white hat tempted by the dark side.
Adam Gorham, who has most recently been seen on Valiant’s Dead Drop with Aleš Kot, immediately strikes a chord with a virtually wordless two-page opening. Leading with the striking image of Mason sitting against a pitch-black sky, a single tendril of smoke wafting up from his cigarette, Gorham’s experience as an inker also comes to the fore. His symbiotic relationship with color artist Michael Garland is also incredibly important in crafting this world, his muted color palette reflecting how bleak their world is. When either Mason or Becky are tempted or sliding into something regretful, the heavy reds and purples are a clear signal to the audience that nothing good can come of this. There’s a hint of Sean Phillips’ noir in there as well, although the only mystery here is what will become of this duo next.
What some may find difficult to crack in this opening salvo is how relentlessly bleak The Violent can be, while others may find that it is a little too close to home. Yet Brisson’s admirable attempt to highlight one of the most pressing social concerns of our era is a holistic one, supported by the supplement texts that are set to appear in the back-matter, beginning with this month’s ‘Head Down’ by writer Sam Wiebe. He’s also created two characters that we want to spend some more time getting to know, already hooking us in for a second issue.