Review: Postal #3

There is one word that sums up how I feel about Top Cow’s small town murder mystery book, Postal. It’s a word - a name, if we’re being clear - that is used as much in praise as it is in exclamation. And in its third issue, not only is it used as a deft bit of levity, but to show a beautifully nuanced progression of character and conflict. It’s also what I’ve said in quiet admiration after reading each issue of this series so far: Jesus...

As in, “Jesus... this is a good book.” And trust me, if you give Postal #3 even half a chance to hook you, my bet is you’ll be breathlessly whispering your own chosen good lord’s name in vain. Let me tell you why.

Postal-#3In what has become standard in the series’ already impactful run, issue three of Postal affords a fantastic, in-depth look into the outwardly sleepy and secluded Americana town of Eden, USA. From a quaint (if quarrelsome) peek into the town’s diverse domesticity, to the revelatory secret origins of a (in more ways than one) hash-slingin’ waitress, the slices of life in Eden prove to be, more often than not, infected scars, delivered with the turn of a long-rusted knife.

The deepest cut, however - and the bulk of this issue’s story - is taken from the life of Postal’s incredibly well-written autistic main character, Mark, who, as his name implies, is definitely leaving an indelible impression. The main drive of Postal #3 shows how Mark’s past and present family dynamics continue to converge around the town, and him, like a noose. Literally. And while its methodical, character-driven build may put the less-patient off, for me, this story has been as gripping as a throttled neck.

Throughout each of its three issues, Hill and Hawkins’ character writing in Postal has been some of the best I’ve seen in comics; today or in recent memory. They manage to make each citizen of Eden - be they starring or incidental - feel endearing, relatable and well-fleshed, despite all of them, in one way or another, being some type of societal outcast. Even the most minor characters - like the sparring couple clearly in need of counseling - get a more robust treatment than other series give their main cast. But the true achievement of this book continues to be Mark.

It is truly impressive that someone written as so blunt could be cast with such sharp purpose. Mark is not a “good guy,” at least not in the classical sense. That’s not saying he’s “bad,” either; at least not yet. What I love about Mark is that his condition makes him pure. I don’t mean that he’s “simple,” or to imply anything so gauche, but that he is good for the sake of being good; because that’s how people should be. That’s how Eden should be. In that way (although in few others), he is very much like his mother, whose own character gets a much softer, even appealing wrinkle this time around.

And sure, sometimes Mark’s honest, literal manner is played for laughs in Postal, but never maliciously. In fact, it’s effectively used to make “normal society” seem much less-so through the harsh lens of his charming candor. It also makes him an unrelenting, almost fearless detective. What a perfect vehicle to guide us through a murder story in a town filled with liars: this one bastion of untainted conviction amongst convicts.

The dialogue itself reflects the facade of this town: it’s easy, natural. But behind it, lurking just at the surface of its laid back appeal, is this beast that you know just wants to explode. We get that with the high sentence of the shadow-draped figure at the end of this issue, and it’s terrifying to see what he, and by virtue of his presence, what this story is capable of doing.

Visually, Isaac Goodhart’s art may not equal the strength of Postal’s narrative punch, but only just, and that’s not to say it isn’t rewarding. If I were to try and describe his style, I’d call it stark, with a contrasting “sketchy stiffness” that is often perfect for the story being told here. Goodhart is able to conjure incredible brutality here, both expressly in broken faces, and metaphorically in the frozen shatter of dropped mugs. If the art waivers at all, it’s only because a finishing polish was foregone in favor of too thick a drape of shadow (and I don’t just mean the scene where the antagonist looms).

As slightly inconsistent and stiff as the backgrounds can be, when Goodhart and colorist Betsy Gonia are focused and bring the audience up-close, they are on-point! The facial expressions (or in Mark’s case, the lack thereof) are very well emoted on the page, and set beneath a softer palette, Postal #3 is so easy on the eyes, you’d be forgiven for believing the false sense of security most folks in Eden must feel.

Postal is one of those rare gems in comics. It may not be bristling with action on every page, but its calculated burn is steeped with intrigue and incredibly unique, character-driven storytelling, the refreshing likes of which come too few and far between in this industry.

Score: 4/5

Postal #3 Writer: Bryan Hill/Matt Hawkins Artist: Isaac Goodhart Colorist: Betsy Gonia Publisher: Image/ Top Cow Price: $3.99 Release Date: 4/22/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital