by Jeff Lemire (writer & artist), Jose Villarrubia (colors), and Pat Brosseau (letters)

The Story: Meet Gus, a strange animal/boy hybrid born in the wake of an apocalyptic pandemic.  In this issue he deals with death, while he’s hunted by some bad men. Along the way, he meets a possible friend.

What’s Good: I feel as though Vertigo comics are often quite talky, and Lemire’s is much sparser, foregoing the cumbersome exposition one often finds in first issues and letting the barren images do the talking instead; allowing us to get acquainted with the post-apocalyptic setting more by seeing it than hearing it explained to us.

This also makes what is said all the more impactful.  Gus’ relationship with his father is a good example, and is exceptionally well-done.  Lemire avoids creating an easy character here, as Gus’ dad’s mental damage has led to him being two very different people.  By day, he is a tender, loving, instructional father who’s earned his son’s love.  By night, he’s a gibbering lunatic babbling desperate prayers to God.  It’s a very nuanced relationship.

The religious aspect also adds a particular kind of darkness to this first issue.  It colors the dystopic world with desperation, and makes the comic even darker than it already would be, highlighting what people clutch onto in the wake of devastation.

In spite of this darkness, it’s hard not to be touched by Gus’ naivety and innocence.  Watching him play or speak of death almost lackadaisically is oddly powerful, and I hope to see more of how this innocence collides with the broken world outside.

All told, the sparseness of the dialogue pairs up very nicely with Lemire’s artwork, which is utterly haunting.  There are a number of panels here that will stay ingrained in your mind, one in particular that I can’t share.  The lack of dialogue, the muddy palette of colors, the heavy linework, and the sheer number of images of Gus wandering on his own create a feeling of absolute barren tragedy that felt like nothing I’ve read in quite a while.  It just felt so damned sad, heavy, and empty.

What’s Not So Good: It’s not the issue’s fault, but I do have to mention that Vertigo made a really weird choice in making the ending of this first issue their preview, which affected my enjoyment of the book.

Also, while I loved the dark and bare art here, this isn’t Bryan Hitch or John Cassaday.  It’s not overly difficult or brutally detailed stuff, and at times may strike some as seeming a little simple.  While it conjures great atmosphere, you probably won’t be in awe of Lemire’s technical ability if raw artistic horsepower is all you’re after.

The issue’s pacing is also, towards the end, a little convenient.  The timing of Gus’ being attacked is just a little too much and a little too soon.  Similarly, how Gus survives is a little bit deus ex machina, even if Lemire is simply trying to introduce the other main character of the series.

Lemire is also taking a leisurely pace as well.  Very little is known thus far.  Don’t expect explosiveness.

Conclusion: Atmosphere and mood are what this book is all about.  Thoroughly barren and broken with a beautiful glimmer of hope, this is a fantastic debut issue.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans