By Justin McCarty
UNHNGD from Elijah Thomas, Jacob Newell, Josh Southall, and published by Advent comics is a solid start to a sort of reverse dystopian story. We follow Willow, a very busy girl in her neighborhood of Detroit. She is a bookstore clerk, a well-known friend to the underdogs in the area, and a volunteer at the New Beginnings Foundation. The story hints at social commentary concerning many of the headlines coming from Detroit and Michigan in the last few years.
We follow the story mostly through narration. The narration is usually a necessary part of opening stories: if you are going to write a story and do not want to spend five issues on the setup, then you’ll need some exposition in the form of captions. It's efficient. First from Willow, the main point of view character. Then Detective Sawyers, a not yet jaded newly promoted cop who wants to do some real good in the city. The narration is expeditious, but when the caption boxes go away is when the comic really begins to sing. The comic is a pleasure to read when the characters get a chance to interact. Everything about who Willow was before the start of the story really comes through when Andy and Manny are introduced, two well-conceived characters.
It is these interactions that make what on the surface initially feels like a crime noir, read like an upbeat slice of life drama. Going through a day in the life with Willow and her neighborhood cast of characters would probably never be boring. There is so much working for this comic. The characters are rendered diversely. The backgrounds and scenery draw the eye in. Mannerisms and gestures make these characters seem warm or cold depending on their motives. I especially want to spend more time with Detective Sawyer and Detective Harris.
It is a bit cliche to start a story in the present the jump to the past for the setup. Further, we never circle back around to the opening story for any sense of closure for this issue. The cliffhanger is enticing, I do want to know what happens next. The tone of the first few pages is different from most of the comic, it shows how dark things are now. It starkly contrasts Willow before whatever happened to her and the city. It successfully leads the reader to ask the question: what happened to Willow that changed her so much?
The story opens on a church sanctuary. A safe place. A place of judgment and repentance. This is going to be a story of redemption and sacrifice. Willow, and possibly Detective Sawyers, will have to make sacrifices. Is Willow a martyr for her city?
This comic isn’t perfect. It relies on a couple of the usual story cheats. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun read. It’s always nice to find a story that doesn’t throw superheroes at you. This comic shows us you don’t need superheroes to tell a good story.