By Oliver Gerlach
Red Echo #1, written and drawn by E.S. Brophy, is a sci-fi action book with some pretty great cybernetic panthers and a lot of guns. It’s almost entirely action, with very little breathing space for the characters.
Brophy’s cover is genuinely lovely. It’s a striking red, white and black image reminiscent of David Aja’s cover work, which can never be a bad thing. Genuinely very eye-catching, it immediately makes the book look intriguing and different.
Unfortunately, the interior is nothing of the sort. Brophy’s art is, for want of a better word, ugly. After the high-contrast iconography of the cover, opening the book to be greeted by overly rendered shadows, questionable figure drawing, and soupy grey-brown colors is a massive disappointment. It’s not an attractive aesthetic at all, which is a shame, as Brophy’s storytelling in these panels is actually pretty solid. The characters’ body language feels off, with hand movements, in particular, looking wrong, and the faces are poor. There’s a lack of believable expression, and nobody’s face ever looks natural or even emotive. It’s in that strange, uncanny valley where it’s so close to being good work, but the faces are just that few steps away from “right” that the whole thing comes off as crude.
There’s a lot of strong action, though; Brophy draws large-scale movement much better than smaller, more intimate body language. He can’t draw two people having a conversation, but he can draw the HELL out of a woman kicking a cybernetic panther. It’s strong, impactful, and gory, and works well with the tone of the book. The little bits of humour scattered around here are all kind of warped and sardonic in all of the right ways, and the action scenes create a good sense of dark humour and violence that should perhaps pervade the book more than it actually does.
There is a lot of action here, and not all that much actual story, but what narrative and setup there is feels slow and incoherent, in part because of Brophy’s unappealing faces. None of the characters seem to have very much personality, and by the end of the issue it still wasn’t clear who they really were as people. Somehow, Brophy manages to take a book in which a woman kicks a cybernetic panther in the middle of a major fight scene, and make it dull and difficult to get into.
This doesn’t feel like a good introduction to the series that is presumably forthcoming afterwards. There isn’t a clear sense of who the characters are or what’s going on or even what the premise really is, and it’s unremittingly dull and unengaging. Extra-long first issues are rarely a good idea, but in this case I think perhaps Brophy’s story would feel a lot more engaging and interesting if given a few more pages to breathe and introduce its concepts.
Red Echo #1
Writer/Artist: E.S. Brophy