by Brian Wood (writer), Ryan Kelly (art), Jeromy Cox (colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (letters)

The Story: Just when main character Tony begins to question the cult, they manipulate his emotions once again, causing him to commit his bloodiest act yet.

What’s Good: Last month, Wood provided a disturbingly plausible look into cult psychology and emotional manipulation, and this month, he digs further. It works so well simply due to the reader’s ability to see just how wrong the cult’s mentality is.  The reasoning provided by Tony’s “boss man” is so hideously opposite to what most normal people consider emotional common sense, and yet that a sick logic remains is evidence of Wood’s skill as a writer.  It’s all shades of grey as well: there are signs that Tony’s boss is merely keeping his man in line, burying him all the deeper, and yet the rhetoric is said with such passion that the reader actually believes that sincerity is present nonetheless.

This is not at all a cheerful comic. After the poignantly hopeful image that ended last month’s comic, it’s depressing to see Tony pulled back in with such ease. Yet, this only shows Wood’s dedication to realism. There are no heroes or insurrections here, only broken men. No amount of suspicions or discoveries on Tony’s part will make him any less vulnerable or shattered. For some reason, despite the gruesome atrocity Tony commits this month, Wood somehow makes an automaton killing machine sympathetic.

Ryan Kelly’s art is nothing short of astounding, impressing me even more this month than it did the last.  His rendition of Wood’s desolate NYC is dense and packed and yet hopelessly desolate and barren.  Kelly is also one of those remarkable artists where the more brutal his subject, the more emotional baggage he’s able to toss on. Once again, he also provides a metaphorical and poignant image to end this book on, one that should stay with the reader for some time, blending the mundane with the murderous in a manner that is truly disturbing.

I suppose the best thing about this issue is the ever-present disparity between Tony’s world and the reader. Wood’s depiction of brainwashing is only so effective because we are able to see the cult’s manipulation so clearly, while Tony is not. While the reader is able to recognize Tony’s boss’ “gift” for the farce it is, Tony, lost in his trauma, automatically switches into “kill-mode.” Thus, Wood is able to contrast the healthy psyche of the reader with the shattered life of Tony; and the result can only be described as “real.”

What’s Not So Good: Very little is wrong with this book. Plot-wise, the book does centre around one crucial event while showcasing Kelly’s art. While this isn’t a bad thing, as both are golden, it also makes this issue a quick read.  I was honestly surprised how fast I went through it, though I definitely wanted to re-read it almost immediately.

Conclusion: This is heavy, heavy stuff that’ll give the “comics should be fun” guys fits.  Then again, I always hated those guys.  Make no mistake, this is haunting, grade-A quality, can’t miss stuff.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans