Revenger #1

Revenger #1
Written and Drawn by Charles Forsman
Published by Oily Comics

While reading Charles Forsman's The Revenger #1, you can almost hear the opening narration from The A-Team: “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team."  Like them, if you have a problem with missing girlfriends or killer clowns, you can call the Revenger.  The comic opens with a complete non-sequitur to the rest of the issue; the Revenger fighting knife-wielding clowns.  Against a stark white background with no horizon lines or sense of space, this black-leather jacketed woman fights clowns from no kind of circus that I’ve ever seen.  She bashes their heads with a bat, sending their round red nose flying through the air.  As this is going on she describes through narration a grizzly murder of a child, her child; “They killed my baby right in front of me.”  With the clowns taken care of, she walks off into the undefined future with a message left behind in clown blood: 1-800- Revenge.

Receiving a call at that number, the Revenger (she’s never given any other name) travels to Neptune, “the city by the sea,” to try to find a boy’s girlfriend who has mysteriously vanished.  No one except her father seems to know what’s going on and he isn’t talking.  The trail leads her to the Neptune Hotel and completely different and realistically more horrific world than the clowns at the beginning of this issue.  Forsman’s two previous works The End of the Fucking World and Celebrated Summer have both about relatable, youthful experiences.  There has been violence and outrageousness in both of them but the characters, for all of their Charles Schultz-like visual innocence, have had struggles that seem like part of just growing up.  Revenger doesn’t have the same relatable narrative context and it feels like Forsman is working in a completely different style than in his previous comics.

Even Forsman knows that he’s going into some uncharted territory for him.  In an essay in the back of the issue, he writes “I think I wanted to take a stab at doing a very American comic book.”  He cites the work of Ben Marra and Michel Fiffe as examples of what he’s going for and it’s interesting to see this new mainstreamish aesthetic growing through alternative comics.  You could probably also add Tom Scioli, Ed Piskor and maybe even Brandon Graham to that list of cartoonists who are trying to recreate some past nostalgic experience through comics.  Whether it’s Forsman’s action/adventure push here or Fiffe’s Ostrander Suicide Squad riffing in Copra, these younger cartoonists are trying to recreate their own excitement about comics by emulating the comics and stories that they loved.

So here in Revenger #1, we have Forsman walking down some dark, anti-hero path.  There’s a tinge of familiarity to the set up of the book but Forsman’s execution of it feels so fresh and a bit innocent as well.  His earlier books felt more subversive as his characters in the older books looked like the dark-side of Charlie Brown and Lucy as if they were thrown into a Tarantino flick.  Forsman’s Revenger art is sharp and vivid, more Tim Vigil than Charles Schultz.  Forsman is playing within a very defined stylistic world of “realistic” artwork.  His figures look like they stepped out of an early 1990s comic.  The Revenger herself is a very harsh character.  There is nothing soft or cartoonish about her.  The drawings look very much like the “American comic book” that Forsman is going for, even though it may be from a slightly older, more genre-driven comic.

As well as the harder line that Forsman employs, the other new element in Revenger #1 is color.  At times, Forsman seems completely comfortable with it and then at other times in this comic, he still looks like he’s trying to figure out how to use it.  The opening pages, as described earlier, are so captivating because of his use of color.  The Revenger’s dark skin and jacket, the clown’s colorful outfits and the strongly purple caption boxes set against the pure white background announce this comic as something different, something new.  After that, Forsman tries to make the colors work, using earthy tones for the town of Neptune and keeping the Revenger cloaked in dark blues and purple.  When she approaches the missing girl’s father and holds a knife to his throat to get the truth from him, Forsman’s use of simplistic coloring and wonderful staging come together to highlight the father’s confession of what happened to his daughter in a panel that makes unique use of color and space.

Even as there is all of this newness and different elements to Forsman’s work, there are still connections between them, particularly through the characters in Forsman’s comics.  Like the boys in The Celebrated Summer or the young lovers in The End of the Fucking World, the Revenger is caught trying to make sense of her world.  That opening scene frames the whole story as she fights these clowns all the while remembering the death of her child.  She may be the Revenger, complete with her own 1-800 number, but we see her as a character trying to find something in the world that’s understandable and orderly.  She can’t find it.  The clowns aren’t understandable or orderly and as she dives deeper into the mystery of the missing girl, what she finds is more chaos.  Forsman has changed how he draws comics with Revenger #1 but the heart of this book may not be that different than what has come before.