Hass by B. Alex Thompson, Frederico Santagati and Russell Vincent Yu

Written by B. Alex Thompson
Art by Frederico Santagati
Colours by Russell Vincent Yu

Visual mediums are so varied in their capabilities that it’s always fascinating to stumble across a piece of media that couldn't be fully realised in any other form. Hass is so firmly rooted in the comics medium and makes deliberate use of what it has to offer; body language can be observed in TV shows or movies, but coupling that with caption boxes gives an peerless glimpse into a character’s true feelings. Following new student, Josh Jones, on his first day at college, he unfortunately gains some first-hand experience with disturbing bigotry and hatred after a brutal and harrowing attack.

One core part of the character for me, and this may sound like a negative criticism, is the decision to create a main character that is arrogant and unlikeable. As he attempts to, in his words, “court” the girl that he has his eye on, he’s projecting a very confident aura that, when coupled with the inner narration, combines to form someone who’s used to getting what they want. While his background reveals the source of this attitude, beyond the believable self-importance of a first year student, it doesn't attempt to sweep it all under the rug.

Beginning the character on this trajectory serves to show the height at which he starts his journey; the character that we see exploring his first day at college is the polar opposite of the one that we see after, and during, the hate crime. Although it's logical, it drives home the fact that this horrific situation can be inflicted on anyone, no matter their background, and it doesn't stop it from hitting just as hard.

Without the expressive characters constructed by Santagati, the fall wouldn’t have anywhere near as much of an impact. You can decipher exactly how someone is feeling from their facial expressions, with a certain smug satisfaction written all over Josh when he's talking to the girl of his dreams, adding an extra dimension to it all. It's worth noting that Maggie is never once portrayed as a hapless victim to his whiles; you can read the apathy and uncomfortable feelings from her stature in the initial stages but, as she starts to warm up to the advances, her body language softens and she makes her feelings very clear.

This high point in his life is built towards for the significant majority of this first issue; despite what you've already seen at the very beginning, you begin to hope that nothing will happen to him. Seeds are gradually thrown about over the course of his adventure, so that when the incident suddenly appears, it’s a believable progression of everything that we’ve seen so far. Portraying the act as one of circumstance, but still showing the blind hate that drives the confrontation, is a very effective way of showing that these kinds of people maintain an aura of acceptance in public but, when it comes down to it, they’re deeply ignorant and hateful people.

Even though the characters are individually not people that I would want to be friends with, they combine to create a compelling pair; two characters that are sparring to get the upper hand in the conversation somehow cancel each other out. Their repartee is strong from the very beginning, with natural dialogue making even the most mundane of conversations interesting. Deciding, at least noticeably, to not reuse panels in long talking-head scenes makes the entire story feel like it’s constantly moving forwards and prevents it from feeling like a static interaction.

At $5.99 for this bumper-sized issue, it might seem a bit steep; even though Thompson shows his hand in the first few pages, the build up towards the climactic moments is phenomenally done and it all feels incredibly dense. Both characters are three-dimensional from the offset and although your mileage may vary on their relativity to you personally, you will be able to identify someone that you know. At its very essence, that is what the core of this book comes down to: disgusting acts of hate, whether racially or otherwise motivated, can happen to anyone even if you try to convince yourself otherwise. Quite often, you don’t get advance warning and the situation might not be something that you can diffuse, so it’s important that, at the very least, you keep yourself safe from harm. This has been an extremely powerful book and its message is going to sit with me for quite some time.