By Jonathan Edwards
From the official synopsis of it as "the reboot of a comic book miniseries that has never existed," Retcon #1 sounded like the kind of high concept and metatextual affair you'd expect from someone like Grant Morrison. In practice, it actually reminds me quite substantially of Si Spurrier's Cry Havoc from last year. Except, where that book had a thorough understanding and deep respect for the legends and folklore that it referenced, this one merely grabs a couple low-hanging fruits, develops them very slightly, and then tries to cobble together something meaningful out of it. But, the biggest problem here is that it just isn't what it says on the tin.
Instead, we find ourselves with Brandon Ross, a member of a covert military unit that deals with the paranormal. He and his partner Josh are attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to verify if an ex-member of the group is a threat to their secrecy. The short answer is yes, and Josh is ready to eliminate with extreme prejudice and no concern for collateral damage. However, Brandon goes against orders because he doesn't want to hurt anyone and doesn't actually like being a part of the unit or something. And, now he's on the run from them I guess. Boy, this sure is what I was hoping for when Image told me to "travel back and jump in on this comic while it was new!" Now, I presume the whole retroactive continuity concept is going to come into play in future issues, but there's not even an inkling of it here. The closest we get is that Brandon's "powers" are derived from an entity named Merry Sue. If that sounds like an amusing and/or clever idea, it probably could've been. Unfortunately, since it's the only meta idea on display in an otherwise earnest and gritty story, it feels completely out of place and groan-worthy.
Maybe it all would've been a lot more engaging if I'd gone in blind. But as it stands, the plot is muddled, and there's not a lot of reason given to muscle through it. Plus, Brandon just isn't an interesting character to follow. We don't learn that much about him. His motivations are unclear to the point that they seem to shift completely halfway through. And, we only really know him as the "good guy" because he's juxtaposed with one-dimensional sadists like Josh. A part of me wonders if the point is to start in an underwhelming setting and then have everything progressively unwind. However, if that is the case, that unwinding should've started here in this issue. Hell, they could've easily followed the lead of some other Image books with a double-sized issue that'd ensure they establish everything they need while still being able to properly kick things off.
I'm a bit torn about the art. I want to like it, and to some extent I do. I dig the overall stylization and colors. At the same time, very few of the actual designs hooked me at all. Brandon's "Merry Sue" form (or whatever you want to call it) is neat, but that's about it. It ends up being a pretty apt metaphor for how I feel about the book overall. I like the big picture, and there is talent behind it. But, the specific executions of that idea end up being flawed and unimpressive.
Based on this first issue, I don't think I can recommend Retcon. I might come back for issue #2 just to see if it does start to shake things up in a meaningful, hopefully reality-bending, way. But for now, I'd say skip it. And if you're still intrigued by the premise of a military unit for the paranormal, seriously, just go read Cry Havoc instead. It's eerily similar in that regard yet also far more fulfilling a read.
Writer: Matt Nixon
Artist: Toby Cypress
Publisher: Image Comics