No. 1 With a Bullet #1
Written by Jacob Semahn
Art by Jorge Corona and Jen Hickman
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
While Halloween might herald plenty of ghosts, ghouls and monsters, writer Jacob Semahn and artist Jorge Corona have a much more modern kind of horror up their sleeves with No. 1 With a Bullet. Despite this debut issue being a slow burn as far as narrative progression, Semahn knows how to get his scares in early with this high-tech slasher, anchored by some truly haunting artwork from Corona and colorist Jen Hickman.
More than most genres, the most effective horror plays with your perceptions and your emotions, making you feel like something isn’t quite right - that something could leap out of the shadows at any moment. And in that regard, Corona and Hickman are truly a dream team with the visuals of No. 1 With a Bullet - from the very first page, we’re treated to an eerie page of blood splattering across a computer screen, a murder victim slumped over a keyboard with little in the way of clues or explanation.
But it’s a fitting image for Semahn’s story, which blurs the lines between technology, social media, and television with the ever-present fear of murder and betrayal - and thankfully, he has the perfect artist to help him sell the story of production assistant Nash Huang, as her world is thrown upside-down.
What’s perhaps most impressive about Corona’s work is that the level of violence to this issue is actually less than you might think - instead, every page has this creepy and unsettling quality, thanks to Corona’s rubbery, exaggerated characters that sometimes feel comforting but oftentimes push right alongside the boundaries of the uncanny valley. In certain ways, Corona’s compositions and stylish layouts reminds me a lot of Damion Scott, with his bouncy characters keeping the energy moving across nine-panel grids.
Those nine-panel grids prove to be an excellent showcase for colorist Jen Hickman, who does some really beautiful work alternating scenes of hot oranges and yellows with cooler nighttime scenes of purples and blues. (Letterer Steve Wands also gets in on the action with some of these beats, transforming what could have been a somewhat clunky sequence of text messages into some gorgeous colored accents.)
It’s Corona’s work that also pushes No. 1 With a Bullet past some of its structural flaws - for example, the opening scene of the book certainly will push a reader’s buttons just from its disturbing visuals of a shadowy television audience depicted only by its horrifying grins, even if Semahn’s actual punchline (a series of augmented reality contact lenses) doesn’t quite make a ton of narrative sense.
Semahn’s sense of dialogue occasionally feels a little clunky with some of his one-liners, like Nash’s banter with her girlfriend (“Fun fact. Moo-shu’s a delightful word,” Nash says, but her girlfriend’s line of “Cue laugh track” can only lampshade so much). Some of this, however, is just due to the slower pacing of this first issue - Semahn and company are establishing a world here, and while I wish they had cut to the chase a little bit more in showing the overlap between technology and terror, they do make up for the slowness with a one-two punch of a finale.
While the storyline remains to be seen, the artwork for No. 1 With a Bullet cannot be denied, and it’s these kinds of off-kilter visuals that make me excited to see where this series heads next. Given the potential of sci-fi and horror as genres, it’s surprising to not see more of this in comic books, which allows Semahn and Corona ample room to play around with some particularly heady themes (and deliver readers some off-the-wall scares). It’s too early to say if this title lives up to its name just yet, but consider me on-board for more No. 1 With a Bullet.