Postal is not my kind of comic. Crime books, detective fiction and stories about small-town Americana, however skewed, aren’t usually my bag. To quote The Barenaked Ladies (that’s still a relevant cultural reference, right?), it’s all been done. And it’s all been done boringly. So it’s a testament to the strength of this book’s creative team and its myriad talents that I’ve not just stuck with Postal, but have consistently enjoyed every single issue of its run so far. Part of that is thanks to truly exceptional writing from Bryan Hill and Matt Hawkins, and an art direction from Isaac Goodhart, which does sometimes feel stiff, but keeps pace with impressive expressiveness and a few neat tricks (especially this time). But it’s Postal’s overall commitment to moving forward as a narrative; its approach to change in a place intentionally bereft of it, with a lead almost incapable of it, that makes it so damn addicting as a comic book story.
Postal’s main protagonist, Mark, is, by far, one of my favorite characters in any comic book on the stands right now. I love how his frank and inescapably observant perspective gives him not just a unique approach to detective work, but also an avenue for some perhaps incongruously poetic turns. The way he describes the scene with the sheriff in his hospital room, for example, and especially the roses that decorate it, is arresting stuff to say the least.
The scene with the necktie also illustrates the creative team working well together to subtly make the reader do a double-take at something we might have missed - something ostensibly innocuous - which may actually point to a more important revelation of character, and might even act as a call-back to the cover in a weird way. Provided that isn’t just me projecting, it’s this kind of deftness that so impresses me about this series so far.
Back to the discussion of Mark; as endearing as he most definitely remains, here he is given a deeply terrifying evolution of character; one that could give his listless, pragmatic expression and approach to life a worrisome turn in future. There may even be a portent of doom, but it also succeeds in keeping the reader guessing as to how Postal and its cast will change and adapt. And that, of course, is the hook: in a place where everything and everyone is damned, can anything or anyone be saved? It is, as yet, unclear, but I’ll be here to find out.
There are a few glaring problems with this issue; some little things, like Mark’s seemingly miraculous recovery from the A+ beatdown he received from his Pops’ goons, but also some more striking hiccups. Unlike Mark and Maggie, who herself benefits from either growth or regression (depending on your viewpoint), the characterization of Mayor Shiffron suffers from a less wieldy imbalance this issue.
Evolution (or devolution) being a big theme this time, her multifaceted one-step-forward-two-steps-back change is clearly intentional, but that’s the problem. Scenes where she is cold, set against ones where she is caring (like the girl with the coat), feel like shoehorned disparity to give her an uneasy pathos or unbelievable relatability. Saying that, when Hawkins and Hill focus on her steely resolve, the sharp cut of her jib is some of the best stuff going on paper right now.
Speaking of sharp, Isaac Goodhart’s art is just that throughout the majority of this issue’s layouts. While many readers may point to a lack of expressiveness in his characters, I think there’s more nuance to his facial acting, and argue that it’s actually quite tight and evocative. Sure, many members of his cast emote just this side of wistful (if not warm), but he does great work with simmering anger, unwashed creepiness and even fiery terror. Again, some of his figure work is also stiff and some of his backgrounds come swaddled beneath too thick a wash from Betsy’s Gonia’s generally decent colors, but never egregiously so. he overall visual package then is paired well with the story and further paints a subtle, seeping gash in an otherwise pastoral picture.
In its fourth issue, Postal continues to prove itself to be something quite special within our favorite little medium; a standout in an ongoing upswell of increasingly great storytelling, and one of the strangest, most well-written detective yarns in recent memory. If you’re not reading this, you need to change that. Posthaste.