Saturday, July 16, 2011


Gestalt is an Australian publisher, behind some of the Oscar winner Shaun ("Arrival") Tan's comic work. The company has chosen to debut some of their most recent work during next week's San Diego Comic-Con, including "Torn", an original graphic novel drawn by Nicola Scott. The Australian artist has won fame in American comic book industry by working on DC comics superhero titles, most famously through her collaborations with Gail Simone on "Birds of prey" and it's spin-off "Secret Six".

Yet, by all accounts, "Torn" is the brainchild of debuting writer Andrew Constant, and his passion for the project shows through on every page. It's somewhat unclear in what way Joh James contributes to the story's artistic aspect, but judging by the comics traditional divide of labor, his role seems to be that of an inker, or even co-artist.

Gestalt is certainly promoting the book in the right direction. Both the name and the cover are perfectly chosen to depict the story behind them, and that's even before reading the solicitation text itself. From the chapter breaks contained within, it also seems that the company had decided to retroactively solicit the book into a graphic novel, as it's structure quite clearly shows that it was originally intended as a four issue mini-series.

By publishing it in one piece, and forgoing a possible webcomic approach beforehand, Gestalt are more or less banking on the wolfwere premise, and Nicola Scott's name to draw attention from potential new readers, and why not, movie producers. Yet, in the sea of hastily put together high concepts populating the world of independent and "independent" comics, it's quite clear that "Torn" is a labor of love for the talent involved.

The tale opens with a swift and brutal prologue, that sets the pace for the story. The action packed horror with a sympathetic narration is laid out in these pages, showing the origin of the main character illustrated very clearly and directly. That the very same plot points are instantly retold with the start of the first chapter proper leads one to believe that the prologue was potentially used to pitch the whole project, or even tease it in a local anthology of sorts.

In any event, the outlandish premise is established in all it's grisly detail, and what follows is a more traditional urban fantasy, drawing upon influences both sequential and cinematic. If the casually cited "Miller street" is any indication, the script calls upon Frank Miller's work as a direct inspiration, but it's clear that a myriad of outside sources contributed to it, whether they be manga or the more traditional Western comics. The black and white pages depict a brutal city, perpetually at night, and seemingly designed to torture the misbegotten on it's streets, whether through failed institutions, or brutal crime that goes on in it's alleyways. The protagonist has fled the forest where his transformation has taken place to try to live in the place where his new human form fits in, but the process is anything but smooth.

Speaking in broken sentences composed of few, carefully chosen words, he is unable to leave his birthright behind. Yet, by the very fact that he sleeps on it's streets, the wolf is forced to interact with it's denizens, which he does chiefly by forming a bond with Sarah, a fellow homeless girl. The severely traumatized beauty forms an instinctive bond with the strange newcomer, deciding to repay him for his protection by helping him understand the new world he has found himself in. Still, there is no time for the wolf to learn how to stop hunting for food, when his past catches up with him, and the grizzly event of his transformation rears its bloody head in again, terrorizing his new home. It is in how he responds to the terribly personal threat that this new wave of violence brings that will seal the protagonist's fate, and solve his dilemma once and for all.

The most interesting parts of the story deal with wolf's past and a terrible rivalry that replays itself on the streets of suburbia. The threat is clear and diabolical, but never feels wheeled in for the sake of a conflict, despite the antagonist's somewhat less than defined character design. In fact, following the very clear artwork of the opening pages, Scott's line art keeps getting looser, with blocky characters bursting from non-traditional panel borders to hurt one another, which makes for some confusion clarity wise. The spontaneity this grants some of the best pages complements the pacing, but unfortunately leaves a rushed feeling throughout, even for the book starring monstrous characters who never seem to stay still.

As for the other subplots, involving Sarah, and the pair of detectives that are trying to sort out the hideous crime scenes, they start out familiar, but eventually build up to the powerful climax, that the book capitalizes on in it's final pages. Perhaps most importantly, what gives context to the nightmarish events and scene shifts from misery to desperate fight for one's own life is once again, Constant's narration. Throughout he maintains a deep concern for the characters involved, and helps voice their fears and aspirations.

As for the dialogue, perhaps it bears the strongest Miller influence, and much more directly then the scenes of thugs harassing Sarah. Constant's characters speak in a familiar cadence of short bursts, complimenting narration, which is very reminiscent of the way Miller worked in "Sin city". As the story advances, the dialogue starts slipping more and more into instinctive, broken sentences, echoing the frenetic events that are coming to a boil.

In the end, the creators bring their story full circle, as the nightmarish cycle of brutal events claims its victims, and offers what little consolation possible regarding the circumstances. That such a bleak story does end on something of a positive note goes a long way toward calming the reader after taking him on such a high octane bloody thrill ride. The simple lessons of nature that informed the quieter parts of "Torn" are reaffirmed without the work ever resorting too much to cliches. It goes without saying that it uses the tropes inherent in the genre, but it doesn't offer easy answers, nor does it treat the main characters as cyphers.

A very distinctive comic book that stays behind it's premise, instilling it into a fast paced and heartfelt story, that could have benefited from the publisher polishing it up a bit before publication.

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