August 1, 2014

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Shadow over Innsmouth

Written by Ron Marz
Line Art by Ivan Rodriguez
Colors by Inlight Studios
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

A strange fog strands Cranston and his secretary in the small, insular town of Innsmouth, where strange creatures are said to haunts the docks at night. Are they truly servants of the dreaded Chtulhu itself and a vile mix of human intercourse with demons? Only The Shadow knows...

It's only natural that eventually at least one of the pulp characters from Dynamite's considerable stable had to come face to face with H.P. Lovecraft's world, and even if this is the only one we get, it's note-perfect. Ron Marz does just about everything right here, from setting up the fog that traps the pair in the town to reluctant townsfolk telling the Lovecraft portion of the story to the way in which the Shadow gets mixed into the story. Everything flows naturally (thanks to help from some really stellar art from Ivan Rodriguez--more on that momentarily) and ends the way you'd expect, given that the Shadow deals in truths, not legends.

To say more than that would give away the ending, but suffice to say that those hoping to see Cranston's alter ego dispense justice on the evil of a Lovecraftian cult won't be disappointed, though how it plays out may just surprise you. Even the ending cameo works well within the plot Marz uses here, a nice nod to the original stories and how they came to be.

There are a lot of great touches on this one, many of which relate to how closely the art nails the plot, pacing, and dialogue. The idea of Cranston's secretary playing damsel in distress when we know she's just as strong as her boss, for example, is particularly effective, not the least of which is because of how Rodriguez makes her body language so frail at the outset, only to have it change when the time comes to act. Cranston himself casts a long shadow across the page in his first appearance, and when he introduces himself, it's a close-up shot that highlights his mouth and nose, the parts exposed when he's The Shadow.

Before long, The Shadow prowls Innsmouth, and his first appearance is a full splash highlighting the determination of purpose in his posture and body language. He's surrounded by the fog, giving him an air of mystery, and the coloring that spotlights his costume and yet allows the fog to swallow the rest of the images just enough is a clinic. Though we aren't sure of the clues themselves, Marz and Rodriguez show Cranston learning key details that will play out in the climax. When he fights the creatures in this initial appearance, certain details will pop out at the reader as unusual, as long as they can take themselves away from a breath-taking two-gun dive by The Shadow, punctuated by small, circular panels that show where his bullets are landing. That page is framed so well, starting with two small panels at the top, then a fully-extended Cranston  point out across the page in a swan dive, with the circles around him.

That's probably the best page in the book visually, but a strong second might be the two-page splash that tells the Mythos of Innsmouth. Nineteenth Century Picture Frames--Nineteenth Century Picture Frames!!--surround visuals that highlight the narration, while one of the creatures centers the look, with all sorts of water-based creatures surround it, many of which are in various stages of decay and death. If there were an Eisner for "Best Way To Include Backstory" that might just need to be on the ballot.

It's not new to use framing devices, but to make sure they look like something that might be in a turn of the century Victorian house, matching the thematic part of your story? That's where you separate yourself from being a good artist and being one that I want to see more work from as soon as possible.

Before leaving this review, I also need to highlight the coloring. I wish I knew who did the work instead of just "Insight Studio" because it's very good work, and shows that Dynamite is improving in this area. The Shadow's bright red scarf pops every time you see it, because of the murky nature of his fight scenes. His boots shine because Cranston is a rich man, and wouldn't fight crime in dirty shoes. Instead of just going for brown hues, the colorist(s?) used a green-brown palette, which works well with the idea of aquatic creatures. Best of all, however, is even though we are in a foggy area, the fog only is used for effect. When we need to see things, we can. Clarity wins over realism, as it should.

Shadow Over Innsmouth is a love letter to the pulps, signed by a creative team that knew their source material well, worked together to ensure script and art were in harmony, and told a tale that took the best elements of both worlds and put them together. If you have any love of pulp horror, run, don't walk and pick this one up. It gets a highest possible recommendation from me.