May 4, 2016

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Renato Jones: The One% #1


Renato Jones: The One% #1
Written and Illustrated by Kaare Kyle Andrews
Color Flats by Alice Ito
Lettered and Designed by Jeff Powell
Edited by Sebastian Girner
Published by Image Comics

The deck is stacked against you. Our country is more stratified than ever between the haves and have-nots. In a world where someone can receive leniency because of a diagnosis of "affluenza", what hope do regular folks have? So what's a person to do? For some, the "Occupy" movement was the answer, and as social media has grown in importance, more and more people are taking up the mantle of fighting against economic inequality (see the rise of Elizabeth Warren and the campaign of Bernie Sanders) through social and political action. 

Or, you could just start killing the wealthy bastards. 

This latter, bloodier approach is the idea behind Renato Jones: The One% (Renato Jones for short) which is an entertainingly gonzo, gorgeous first issue from creator Kaare Kyle Andrews (Spider-Man: Reign, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon). This first issue is sort of like an R-rated Batman meets Punisher by way of Howard Zinn, and leaves me wanting to know what happens next. Without giving too much away, Renato Jones is a man who lives among the wealthy, but is not of them. This oversized first issue gives a look into Jones' humble origins, along with showing him in action as he seeks lethal restitution and retribution against the 1%.


This was a blast of a first issue. I'll say at the outset that Andrews' goal here doesn't seem to be subtlety, so if you're looking for a critical, nuanced analysis of structural factors that contribute to economic inequality, I'd look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a chance to see someone go after the worst of the bourgeois in the most visceral way possible, this is the proletarian action-revenge-satire-fantasy you've been looking for.

What's engaging about Renato Jones starts with the art and design of the book, as Andrews produces some dramatic, stunning work in this first issue. I first became aware of Andrews as a result of Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, a book for which Andrews' kinetic, exaggerated style was perfectly suited. Similarly in Renato Jones, as Andrews has written, illustrated and colored the book himself (with flatting assistance from Alice Ito) he has complete control over the look and feel of the book, and this is a comic that feels like a unified whole (and I don't doubt that having Sebastian Girner involved as editor contributed to that).*

Andrews' voice comes through in the pacing, the action, the dialogue and the big, exaggerated art. He has a distinctive line; the exaggerated, chiseled features depicted on these pages are unmistakable. Andrews' work does remind me a little of that of Wes Craig, both in the linework and character depictions (exaggerated while still feeling very much like real people), and also in the high-energy feeling of their pages. Each is exceptionally skilled at depicting action or motion, whether that's a chase sequence or combat. Fighting is not easy to depict in a comic (i.e., showing motion in a static medium), but Andrews does this very effectively. He manages to depict the cat-like speed and agility of one character, and also portray the lumbering strength of another, and portray the brutal, visceral impact when characters hit one another. It's exciting, engaging work.

Andrews' use of color as part of the storytelling is very strong in this debut issue.  The color palate in each scene is very specific to that scene, such as below, where the page and the few preceding it have been showcasing a dark, frantic chase on a boat. The pages are almost entirely done in grayscale such that when you see a glimmer of light coming through the door, it's shocking and dramatic, as we've almost forgotten that this isn't a black & white book.  A lot of the story concerns flashbacks to Jones' childhood, and these are done entirely by giving all of those pages a washed-out, faded, textured appearance, along with making it appear that each of those pages is drawn on an old, folded-up piece of paper. This color and design effect worked well for me in both making it easy to determine which scenes were set in the past, but also creating a specific feeling that these scenes are ones that are faded somewhat in memory.  Within these faded flashback pages, Andrews uses color to show not just emotion but a change in emotion. Over the course of a few pages, Andrews depicts a series of sequences that start as optimistic and turn very dark. Within that sequence the colors start brightly and it feels almost like they're drained away, which tracks Jones' transition from optimism to fear. It's effective storytelling.


Relating to the look-and-feel of this comic, Andrews does something else in Renato Jones that I really enjoy, which is that he includes a number of fake advertisements for a Renato Jones cologne, with such catch phrases as "comicbooks" and "luxury" depicting glamorous, wealthy people.  These ads perfectly, capture the "sexy 1%" feeling you'd get from a Ralph Lauren or Giorgio Armani ad. This sort of fake advertisement shows up to great effect in Watchmen and more recently in books like Nowhere Men, Southern Cross and Lazarus (which also uses live-action photographs in its ads, as opposed to the other books which use illustration). What distinguishes the ads in Renato Jones, I think, is the purpose.  The creators of Lazarus are using these ads to further sell the verisimilitude of the incredibly detailed world they're creating. By contrast, these ads aren't in Renato Jones to sell the world-building. Instead, I think they're there to both be a bit of humor, and at the same time, to depict the sort of wretched excess that the main character is fighting against. There is a risk that these ads take the reader out of the story, so it's a bit of a high-wire act, but as someone who enjoys meta-commentary built into their comics, I enjoyed it.

The character of Renato Jones has been established as someone with wealth and resources, who's dedicated his life to taking down those who would abuse their power and their wealth. While there may be many kind, generous ultra-wealthy people, you won't meet them in the pages of Renato Jones. The wealthy people you meet in the story (other than Jones himself) are murderous, cruel and greedy - caricatures, really. My sense is that this is entirely by design. Jones has, in this first issue, set out to create both a satire of the wealthy but (maybe) also to take aim at our simplistic desire for violent retribution and vengeance against those who we believe to be responsible for the evils of the world. Because, much like in a Batman or a Punisher comic, there are always more bad guys. Killing them (or, in the case of Batman, injuring them) doesn't ultimately seem to make much of a dent in crime (and, unlike the heroes of The Authority, Batman and Punisher aren't really interested in taking on larger societal goals). It's an interesting idea, and it will be worth seeing as the series develops whether Andrews brings this level of criticism to the hero (and in turn, those rooting for him) as well. Even if he doesn't take that next step, the revenge genre is certainly a satisfying one.


Andrews plays with the Batman idea (and the broader idea of wealthy superhero vigilantes) in interesting ways.  To quote Andrews from promotional materials:
"Batman was a billionaire kid who watched his billionaire parents die at the hands of a poor street thug trying to keep his family alive. Batman didn't declare war against crime, he declared war against the impoverished." 
This is something that has bothered me in recent years, as I've thought (as an adult) about Batman as a character. He's an emotionally damaged billionaire who dresses up at night and beats up poor and mentally unbalanced people. So, I appreciate the way in which Renato Jones is playing with superhero tropes even though this is not a superhero comic. It'll be interesting to see if Andrews pushes further on the idea that many of the popular heroes in comics and elsewhere are fundamentally misguided in the "evils" that they pursue.   

Renato Jones is a fun, frantic, absurd, over-the-top revenge fantasy, along with being a well put-together comic that reads like a unified, immersive experience.  It's a story full of ideas, energy and potential.  As the story progresses, I'll be curious to see where Andrews take it.


* I'm always glad to see when editors are involved in creator-owned books, as I've read a number of books that feel like they could have used one.