By Patrick Wolf
Years ago I saw Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, and I remember feeling completely blown away. The film was so dark, anxious, melancholy, and astounding that I left the theater with a sense of wonder and dread that I haven’t experienced in a long time. By Chance or Providence gave me a similar feeling. While not quite as intense as Black Swan, it has the same sense of wondrous terror that made Aronofsky’s film so amazing. If you’re into dark, brooding stories with a twist, this collection is something you should definitely pick up.
By Chance or Providence features three stand-alone stories: “Wolves,” “The Mire,” and “Demeter.” Each takes place within the same medieval universe, and each deals with its own set of unique characters. “Wolves” follows a broken hunter in search for a monster that’s more than it seems; “The Mire” tells the story of a young squire delivering a message through a haunted forest; and “Demeter” shows us the last days of a lonely fisherman’s wife as she tries to bring back what cannot be reclaimed.
As a critic, I review a lot of comics. Some are good, some are bad, and some push the envelope in either direction. But, every so often I get something so special, I’m at a loss for words: By Chance or Providence belongs to this category. There’s something about these stories that are so touching and melancholy I’m surprised at how much they’ve affected me. It’s as if Becky Cloonan captured the souls of these people and painted them before our very eyes: I want to know more about the hunter; I’m rooting for the squire, and I feel the sorrow of the fisherman’s wife. Without a doubt, this is the best collection of short stories I’ve read this year.
But the prose is not the only thing that’s great about this anthology. The artwork is phenomenal as well. Cloonan has a way of penciling facial expressions that capture the anxiety, misery, triumph, and loss of each individual character. Loughridge’s colors are also superb, and they do a great job of complimenting the melancholy tone of each tale. I admire how the artists were able to convey the general sadness of this world without making the reader feel depressed or pessimistic. In spite of all the tragedy, you feel hopeful.
In the prologue to the collection, Cloonan writes: “Dedicated to those of you with crushes on your characters.” When I first read this line, I thought Cloonan was being a little narcissistic. But after finishing the book, I understood. How could anyone not fall in love with her characters? They possess all the virtues and vices anyone could ever want in a person. Get this collection. You won’t regret it.
By Chance or Providence
Writer/Artist: Becky Cloonan
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Rachel Deering
Publisher: Image Comics