June 20, 2017

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Heartthrob Season 2 Doesn't Miss a Beat


Written by Christopher Sebela
Line Art by Robert Wilson IV
Color Art by Nick Filardi
Publshed by Oni Press

What do you do when you've broken up with the man who lives in your heart while on the run from the authorities? Hide in Canada and get a normal job, of course. But once crime is in your bloodstream, it's not so easy to let go of, as Callie soon finds--especially if you're still living with hockey-themed crooks. Who is Callie, really? It's time to find out as Heartthrob returns in its second volume.

I really enjoyed the first volume of Heartthrob, because the concept is just so much fun. What if, by some weird stroke of science fiction, the essence of the heart donor remained inside of it, and only you, as the person with the organ inside you, could sense them? Better yet, what if they physically manifested for you, giving you a very exclusive romance?

That in and of itself would have been a fun story to read. But then Sebela and Wilson IV add a new wrinkle--what if the donor had been a master criminal, and what if you worked for an evil corporation that denied people their benefits? Now it's a Robin Hood Romance with heists and hijinks and a support crew with their own quirks. Set in the 70s so Robert can really have fun with his fashions (and Sebela can avoid too many high-tech surveillance issues), the first Heartthrob was a ton of fun, and one of my favorite comics of 2016, had I ever gotten around to making a list.

As we left the first volume, Callie was trying to separate herself from her "partner," and that's where we find her in the new series. While her crew is still pulling nickel and dime jobs (almost literally), Callie is going straight.

Sort of.

Most of the issue is Callie warring with herself (for a change), trying to figure out what parts of her criminal actions were hers organically, and while came from Mercer. Is she really ready to give up the thrills that came with her new heart and go back to a normal life? Once you have that adrenaline rush, can you just bury it, the same way she's trying to bury Mercer from her mind?

Given that she's living with the getaway driver Scout and the people who helped her sneak into Canada, I think you know the answer already, but that doesn't stop Sebela and Wilson IV from pacing this issue just right, showing that Callie's actions and beliefs don't occur in a vacuum. Her decisions--or lack of them--impact on those around her.  By the end of the issue, Callie is ready to take action, but there are two main questions that loom over this new series (Did her realization come too late? Can she really keep Mercer repressed?) and I can't wait to discover how the creative team reveals the answers.

That last sentence might be one of the best things about Heartthrob as a series. I've opined on Twitter repeatedly that a lot of creators don't understand how single-issue comics work, because they've got their eye on the Trade. If I have to hear, "This will read better once you've read the whole thing" one more time, my eyes will roll so far back I'll look like something from Creepy. If you are going to write in the single-issue style, you need to find a way to make both the individual issue interesting, while also keeping the reader going. That's exactly the case here. This issue is the story of Callie going straight, and that mini-story feels complete, while opening us up to the larger story and setting up the plot of the next issue. Nothing about this makes it impossible to read in trade form, but it does ensure anyone who wants to read issue-by-issue is getting their money's worth. I can really get into that, and I say that as a person whose reading is almost all graphic novels and trades these days.

I can also get into Robert Wilson IV's art, but that's no surprise to any of our long-time readers. He has a very distinctive style that's easy to spot, with large, square eyes that shoot daggers at both the other characters and the reader, thick ink lines (which are particularly well-suited for bell bottoms, let me tell you), and a willingness to play with perspective that really makes some scenes stand out. A good example of this (sadly, not in the preview pages I'm allowed to share) finds Callie thinking about stealing from a fellow classmate. The panel is drawn in such a way that Robert makes it feel like Callie is actually reaching out to us in the real world, all without sacrificing clarity of scene. At other times, like the below panel with the speeding car, only seeing a small hint of the car instead of it in full view, allows our eyes to really imagine the motion of the vehicle in a way that a long-shot look wouldn't allow for. 

Heartthrob is a comic that truly has a flow to it, because the linework is designed to show us movement, rather than the freeze-frame panels that show up too often in comic work. Comics are their own medium--they aren't movies or television shows broken down frame by frame. While other artists might opt to draw a scene perfectly realistically or find a way to balance a panel, Robert understands that often isn't best to make the comic work. He'll show you things from the corner of Callie's eye, for example, pushing the star of the book out of the way to get a better view. He's not afraid to use traditional panel construction at all, or even standard positioning of the characters. But what makes his art--and Heartthrob as a book--something I want to drop everything and write about is that he's perfectly willing to do layouts that would challenge others. Sometimes, they even challenge him, but I prefer that over those that take a safe route. Art like this makes me stop and linger, and that should be the goal of every comic.
Another goal should be finding a color scheme that matches what you're trying to do with the comic. I remember Nick Filardi's colors as being more vibrant in volume one, but that's on purpose here. Callie is back to trying to fit in, so wearing jarring clothing wouldn't make sense. Neither would having bright backgrounds, as they'd clash with the overall theme. He also does a great job with recreating the god-awful 70s color choices of most homes. (I'm just old enough to remember those, thanks very much.) I'm completely speculating that the more muted color choices are intentional, and one of the things I'll be looking at from the art is if we remain with those or if they chance to match Callie's mindset.

It's not easy to top a good first mini-series, but Sebela and Wilson IV are off to a great start. I can't wait to read the next issue. If you're new to the series, you don't have to go grab the trade of Volume 1 (but you should!), either. Thanks to a clever recap-via-diary and immediately engaging characters, this is a book you can pick off the spinner rack and read. I have a feeling it'll steal your heart, the same way it's taken mine.