Review: Cry Havoc #1

When Dustin (King Bastard) asked me to do an advanced review of Cry Havoc #1, I briefly considered recusing myself.  Si is bar-none my favorite writer in the business, and I worried that the number of ways in which I had already made my mind up about his approach to writing would impair my ability to give a balanced opinion of Cry Havoc. But I had already read Cry Havoc #1 by that point.  And, as such, I knew that it would be a completely ass-faced exercise in vanity for me to pretend that my (or anyone's) fandom of one single member of this creative team would carry any weight in a thoughtful engagement with the contents of this book.  That is because Cry Havoc is a fucking Cerberus of sequential art: one writer, one line artist, and three colorists, each of which is responsible for breathing a particular type of life into a specific section of Cry Havoc's story.

As a result, the dissonance created by the sharply different coloring approaches of Filardi, Loughridge, and Wilson is a dissonance which is itself an intentional narrative device, the resolution (or lack thereof) of which will feature prominently in this story's climax.  Spurrier is no stranger to taming such meta-narrative behemoths in order to unleash them on the reader, but the balance that must be achieved here is far more delicate than his other ambitious projects that at least had the benefit of being linear.  And, of course, line artist Ryan Kelly is tasked with being the glue that holds the entire project together.

The tripartite story follows a young woman named Louise throughout her exploits in London, Afghanistan, and The Red Place, each rendered by a particular colorist.  And, oh yeah, she's a werewolf.  The compartmentalized color schemes of the beginning, middle, and end of the story would lend enough unique flavor to the narrative structure of this story on their own, but a further twist is that each section of the story is being revealed to the reader in parallel.  In other words, we witness the beginning of the end as we witness the beginning of the beginning as we witness the beginning of the middle, and the three are woven in between one another rather deliberately.  Louise's humble beginnings as an unemployed annoyance to her girlfriend are juxtaposed with her time in Afghanistan as a werewolf soldier and her captivity in a mysterious jail cell.  Cry Havoc makes us ask questions about each of these phases of Louise's story, and even where the first issue offers answers, it's unclear how felicitous those answers are.

I stand by describing the result as a fucking Cerberus of sequential art.  Transitions between aspects of the story never require captions (though they are occasionally employed): the change in coloring styles is always distinct enough to signal the reader as to where they are in the story.  This means that Spurrier is at all times in a precarious position, because the story is constantly threatening to come across as three stories haphazardly thrown together.  Cry Havoc mostly succeeds in avoiding this.  Cry Havoc's narrative  smoothly switches gears using visual symbolism, foreshadowing and, well, flashbacks.  Most comic creators opt for a coloring manipulation of some sort when flashing back anyway in a comic, and Cry Havoc benefits from the fact that flashbacks blend seamlessly into the very identity of this comic.

The Cerberus mostly barks in unison, but it occasionally seems like Cry Havoc suffers from being over-designed in the colorists' favor.  The first page spread takes the reader from Loughridge's colors--which show candlelight and blood permeating the drab, mysterious environment of The Red Place--to Filardi's--which are more whimsical, with sunlight and blue creeping their way into the London scenery.  The difference between Filardi's work and Loughridge's work isn't jarring, necessarily, but it's certainly enough for the reader to take notice.  The first spread doesn't stop there: just in case you were unsure, the panel borders of The Red Place are a stark cherry red, and the panel borders encapsulating London are a deep sky blue.  The border choices bring out the palettes of each colorist (just as a blue shirt brings out my eyes and a red shirt makes me look angry at everything), but I worry that by building the pages so much around color to this extent, the book might drag readers too far to one side of the spectrum and then back to the other.

Cry-Havoc-#1-1Kelly's art is so strong on this title that he serves as the ideal substrate onto which all these colorists can pin their versions of Louise's world.  The page designs threaten to turn what should be a surprisingly unified jaunt with powerful (and beautiful) weapons of contrast at its disposal into a story where contrast is itself the melody and Kelly is the rhythm section.  Of course, it's possible that this is the mission of the book.  The very thing I'm worried about could be a major bit of narrative structure.  But since Cry Havoc has yet to show its true colors (I'm entitled to one pun), the fact that the page designs amplify differences between inherently unique coloring approaches makes the push-and-pull of some page turns feel more like a bane than a boon.

And let me say more about Ryan Kelly.  I love his work.  One of the first books I reviewed here--in fact, I think it was the first trade that I reviewed--was the re-release of New York Four.  I had mixed feelings about the book, but Kelly was its star.  Characters would walk out of the New York subway and the sense of awe that I would feel looking at the page was comparable to my first times in the city as a kid.  Looking at any of his work, it's very clear that Kelly has a gift for taking you somewhere.

The triumph of his work on Cry Havoc is not only in his ability to put you in a place: it’s in making you unsure that you're even really there.  The monsters in Cry Havoc are both ethereal and imposing.  Because of the way the story's going, to my mind, it's unclear that they're even real.  But, importantly for the type of story that's being built, viewing their appearances feels like reading a living myth.  Kelly's designs are frightening in how well he makes the twisted, jagged forms of an ethereal werewolf thing fit into an everyday London setting.  The penultimate page is a great example of this: the juxtaposition of a simply-rendered functional little sink faucet with the beast staring back in the mirror--it's gorgeous and jarring all at once.

At this point, only one issue in, the very identity of this story is the biggest question being asked by the story itself. I do not doubt that this creative team will deliver the answer.  The question for me remains--and it's a small one in the grand scheme of this book, but certainly one to keep an eye on--whether or not these extra bits of narrative scaffolding begin to more clearly support a book that already seems to have enough going for it.

Score: 4/5

Cry Havoc #1 Writer: Si Spurrier Artist: Ryan Kelly Colorist: Nick Filardi, Lee Loughridge, and Matt Wilson Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 1/27/16 Format: Mini-Series, Print/Digital