Jordan and Strahm’s Spread (which I grant you sounds like a delightful berry-based breakfast condiment) has been something of a roller coaster ride since its release last year. While I’ve enjoyed it for the most part, I think issue five is where I check out, at least temporarily. This isn’t a bad book by any stretch, but it has settled into the rut of an afterthought, which is disappointing after such a strong debut and clear early presence. Sorry for the pun, but it just feels like the creative team, and even the premise itself, has become too thinly spread. Spread #5 continues the story of, well, basically those fucked up star-baby-dammits from Planet Hulk (“spikes” I think they were called), and plants them in a post-apocalyptic, frozen Mad Max wasteland. Stir in a couple main cast badasses (on both sides of the moral barometer) and a quasi familial plot, and Spread falls somewhere between John Carpenter’s The Thing and BKV’s Saga. Or at least, that’s the idea.
This issue sees the continuation of a bust-up at one of the last remaining human camps, where scummy survivors battle not only our loose-knit band of heroes, but also an invasion of sentient versions of the Spread, led by a pseudo-religious leader. Calamity ensues as you’d expect, with Jordan once again employing a loose writing style, which I usually enjoy, but for the first time feels like it errs on the side of brevity.
Okay, it’s a battle issue, so much of the dialogue is understandably caught up in the stilted repartee of swordplay and fisticuffs. As such, there’s not much to sink your teeth into, narratively speaking. There are also a few hiccups in the series’ logic; most noticeably the fact that not everyone who is struck by the Spread is turned. Now, that could be something I missed, and I guess isn’t that important, but it makes the story feel less formed, like the rules have not been properly defined. The tone also feels hectic and breathless, and not always in the way you’d want. I guess I would have liked more depth to anchor the brouhaha, but this issue doesn’t do much to push the story further from issue four.
Kyle Strahm’s art, meanwhile, reminds me of both Gus Storms (from 2014’s EGOs) and Sam Kieth (from The Maxx, obvs); not necessarily in style (although there is a shared cartoony grit there), but more in the way it so wildly varies in quality from panel to panel. Don’t get me wrong, some of his work in issue five is gorgeous. I particularly enjoyed his artistic take on the ongoing struggle between butcher knives and human skulls, not to mention that last splash page, which I wish was more visually indicative of the whole.
Unfortunately, in filling issue five from cover-to-cover with action, Strahm tips his hand, showing a few too many shortcuts. Blurred appendages, nebulous background actors and an overall sense of being incomplete rules the day, and his sketchy style unravels to reveal a rushed flurry. At rest and in-focus, his style is lithe and brutal; perfect for a story about a hungry world devouring itself. But like its writing, Spread #5 falls short of feeling complete, and more like filler.
Though Sobreiro’s colors do sometimes falter in the rush of backgrounds, there remains a surprising amount of nuance at play in them; for example, the deep reds set against a backdrop of pastels, or the mottled watermarks that provide a fleshy filter. I do enjoy this artistic team-up, but I almost wish they would take more time to really hammer down and let set their shared visual voice. Then again, this issue took almost two months to release, so maybe time isn’t the problem.
I was pumped when Spread first dropped, and have enjoyed it in varying turns since. I’m stepping back from the series for now, but rest assured that I’ll be the first one back if it can recapture its consistency and once again realize its promise.
Writer: Justin Jordan Artist: Kyle Strahm Colorist: Felipe Sobreiro Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 1/21/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital