There are so many interesting ideas that King is working with in SWOT, and the character depictions are fascinating, but where I want to start is the stunning art from Evely and Lopes. This is my favorite-looking comic on the stands now, and Evely (Sandman: The Dreaming, Wonder Woman) and Lopes (Sandman: The Dreaming, Batgirl) work together so seamlessly that it's impossible to think about the linework without thinking about the color, and vice versa. I recently learned that they've worked together previously, and I'm not at all surprised. I hadn't seen much of Evely's work prior to this, so her work was an absolute revelation for me. Beautiful doesn't really begin to describe it.
First things first, Evely is an exceptional sequential storyteller. My standard for this is to ask the question “would you be able to understand this comic if there were no words on the page?" and in the case of SWOT, the answer is an emphatic yes (obviously this question doesn't work for all comics). Such as in the above page where the action between the parties is clear and the setting of the sun conveys the passage of time. Or in the immediately below page where Ruthye comes to her dead father and the camera moves to her hand, and pulls back to her eyes on the sword, and then to her whole body (as she decides to take the sword). We see her thought processes and her plans begin to take shape, even without the words on the page.
beyond being able to tell her story sequentially, Evely does so much
intricate, gorgeous work on every page. In fact every individual page of
the comic feels like its own little story or tableau, and I want to
linger on each page and not read through too quickly. Evely puts a
tremendous amount of detail into each page. Whether depicting the inside
of a spaceship, the office of a local official, or a sad hospital
room, that rich sense of detail is present on each page. Part of what
makes Evely such an effective storyteller in addition to a great sense
of pacing and rhythm, is the ability to portray some of the most
effective, striking facial and body acting than I’ve seen in a comic in a
long time. Evely draws the most expressive faces, there’s definitely a
heightened sense of emotion on every single page and within every single
character. I sort of think of this kind of like the comic equivalent of
a silent movie, where silent movie actors and actresses used to have to
act in a larger-than-life way in order to compensate for the fact that
you couldn't hear their words directly.
Thankfully, there are words on the page of SWOT, and we'll get to those. But it’s the eyes of the characters in particular that I want to mention. Evely has an incredible knack for being able to portray so many different emotions just in the eyes of her various characters, whether those emotions are resignation, fear, steely determination, unbearable anguish, sorrow and frustration. All of these emotions come across incredibly clearly through the eyes of the various characters in the story. And what wonderful characters those are. If I were to try to describe the style of art Evely has, on a scale of more or less realistic I would say, it’s a it’s like a heightened sense of reality. Everything is a little bit bigger and more than realistic.
But the emotions, the actions, and the way characters look an act and interact with one another, all feels incredibly grounded, notwithstanding the fantastical settings of the story. Ruthye is always steely and serious. Her sense of determination almost never seems to waver, and she is clearly a child that is wise and serious far behind her years. And Evely‘s Supergirl is a woman of beauty and strength and tremendous grace. She does not generally attempt to intimidate any of those who would challenge her, but her strength and determination clearly come across on the page, particularly in the initial issues of the story. Whenever she is fighting, she knows that she doesn’t have her superpowers and she is vulnerable but she fights with the strength and determination that is unmatched, regardless of the presence or absence of super powers.
But as I said before, this comic would not be what it is without the artistic team of Evely and Lopes. As gorgeous as all of Evely‘s work is, it’s the addition of absolutely stunning colors from Lopes that really helps bring this comic to life. These colors can vary from the rich warm colors of the hearth of Ruthye‘s home, the blazing red sunsets of her world, to the rich, varied, and weird selection of colors that illustrate all of the various alien species that Ruthye and Supergirl meet in their travels. In the below scene of the spaceship in which Ruthye and Supergirl travel, those bright colors are contrasted with the worn-out, faded colors of the ship itself. On the final few examples of pages below, the colors of tragedy and massacre and bloodshed are so rich and bright as to be almost overwhelming. It feels like the sky is the color of the blood that has been shed, and even the Supergirl is only one small being surrounded by that violence.
But all is not gloom and doom in Lopes' colors. To the contrary, the richness of his color palette throughout the comic brings into extraordinary life even the most grim of situations. And in other parts of the story, Lopes and Evely work together to create images of unsurpassed beauty, such as a troublesome space dragon that Supergirl has to fight so that the spaceship can keep going without danger. Lopes has a wonderful grasp of light and shadow; there are panels in which one person is relaying the nature of the attack upon he and his friend by the merciless Brigands, and the use of light and shadow in his hospital room really brings to life the despair and desolation and pain of that moment. It’s really quite masterful work.As I read SWOT I realized that the basic outline of the story reminded me of True Grit by Charles Portis, first published as a novel in 1968. It was made into a movie in 1969 starring John Wayne, and remade in 2010 by the Coen brothers (with a young Hailee Steinfeld). She stars as a girl who decides to hire a retired US marshal to hunt down the man that killed her father; he's initially reluctant, but takes on the assignment. SWOT of course does not have a plot identical to True Grit, but there are some meaningful similarities. The story of SWOT has a plot that sounds like that of a western; a man is murdered in cold blood, and his child seeks out a bounty hunter in order to exact revenge against the man who killed her father. She and her hunter/protector set out across vast landscapes and through all sorts of treacherous obstacles in order to seek vengeance (or justice), and to put a stop to this man’s reign of terror. While being very much a superhero/science-fiction story, that sense that a western provides, of adventure, a vast scope and simple, primal goals and motivations, all of that is quite present in SWOT.