Written by guest contributor Lance Lambert
When I saw that Christopher Sebela had another comic in the works I was stoked. I have been reading Dead Letters since its release and High Crimes was one of my favorite comics that I had the chance to read this year. It’s not only Sebela’s writing that tends to turn heads, he manages to have wonderful artists along for the ride with Chris Visions’ eccentric style in Dead Letters and Ibrahim Moustafa’s exceptional work in High Crimes. Now we have Welcome Back with Sebela and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer. Sawyer is the artist for another recent release on Black Mask Studios called Critical Hit. There’s no mystery here, Sawyer is damn good. Now that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how great their previous works are I should probably get to Welcome Back #1.
Welcome Back starts with a girl named Mali. Not far from reality she’s stuck in a rut that most of us can relate to, struggling to find a job, no feeling of purpose, and disconnected from most of the outside world except for her dog. I forgot to add she’s also the step daughter of a late serial killer. So maybe you can’t relate to all of her struggles and hopefully not the latter, but there’s something that connects us all to Mali. As far as the serial killer step dad goes, she can’t escape fan mail, sympathies, and all the rest of the disgusting results of a shock entertainment/celebrity culture.
Only a couple pages into the story and Sebela has already connected me to the world and the character. That’s how the first half of the comic continues to unfold. We see Mali in her most vulnerable and open moments, her daily routine. Is it mundane, no way its great writing, writing that has you involved with the character before shit really hits the fan. There’s plenty more to praise, but it all comes back to Sebela writing a personable character, he even throws modern punk bands, like Mammoth Grinder in the dialogue, giving that little touch of connection.
During all of this, the story shifts back and forth to another character, a kick ass agent named Tessa. Tessa’s role in the story is slowly reveals the main concept all the while Mali is figuring it out herself. We come to find out that they are stuck in the cycle of reincarnation. An eastern philosophy that we are all trapped in until we recognize that we are apart the cycle. Most of the characters have no clue, but as things get tough for Mali she starts to remember her past. But her past consist of hundreds of different lives she has lived. Then we have the real interesting stuff, Tessa and Mali are stuck in this constant realm of existence as soldiers whose purpose is to kill each other. These soldiers are called sequels. These sequels have to have a revelation of understanding almost as if they are sleeper agents in the war of reincarnation.
Mali suddenly awakens and becomes a girl no one should want to mess with. When this was finally brought to light I instantly was hooked. My only complaint is during this constant change of narrative, I was lost and had a hard time figuring all of it out. However, through re-reading a couple panels I was caught back up. Even though this was somewhat tedious, Sebela is working with an intricate concept. As readers, it’s good to have a challenge, something to work for. Sebela’s previous works, like Dead Letters, was much of the same challenge. In the end I felt rewarded and even more invested.
The finale of the first issue leaves a lot unanswered. The reader has no clue why either of the characters are constantly at war with each other. Here’s the catch neither do the characters. Life is a confusing game and outside of the fantasy of sequels at war with each other, we can all relate with not knowing what the hell we are working for. It’s a really beautiful connection between the writer, readers and characters. I may not know Sebela’s ideologies but through his writing I see that he’s right beside us in this search for understanding.
There’s just as much to say and praise with Sawyer’s art. I have never seen Sawyers art until Welcome Back. The first couple pages of introduction are exciting, clean, and effective. They are also full of gore and I have to be honest that is always a hook for me. Because of such a solid introduction, I ended up scanning the entire book for the art before even reading. I really enjoy the way he draws his characters and especially Mali. Emotions are clearly expressed through their movement and facial expressions. The way he draws faces as well as their reactions is really fun and happens to be some of the most enjoyable art I’ve seen in a while. It’s just damn good.
That goes for his movement with the panels as well. One of my favorite scenes is the dream sequence, where Mali is caught in another nightmare of what we later find is her past life. In this moment it is the lack of panels, as he steps outside of them and shows a dark encounter that really excites the reader and brings the essence of a dream to the page. Without panels the scene is thrown together in one glimpse much like the feeling of recollecting a dream you’ve had the night before. The action scenes later on with Tessa infiltrating a villa and also Mali’s fight with another sequel, are fun and full of kick ass transitions. To see a name that, I was unfamiliar with and finish the book with Sawyer being potentially a new favorite artist was exciting to say the least. I can’t wait to see more in the future.
Almost everything about this book is fucking fantastic. Other than a couple areas where the narrative became difficult to follow, the writing is phenomenal. Sebela continues to impress and Welcome Back shows that he’s only improving his craft. If that’s not enough Sawyer’s art is by far some of the best, I’ve seen recently. There is a lot left in this story and it would be a mistake to not join the ride. I know I am on board and more than ready to see where they take us. When you hit the shop this week make sure to grab a copy and one for a friend. If you don’t have friends like Mali and myself, get one for your dog. Dogs enjoy good comics too.