by Matt Wagner (writer), Chrissie Zullo (art & colors), and Jared K. Fletcher & John J. Hill (letters)

The Story: A boy dogged by a wretched odor is lost in the city without his memories, but in his dreams, he’s a space adventurer pursued by a mysterious witch.

What’s Good: Chrissie Zullo’s work completely and utterly carries this book.  She has crafted what, for me, is the best looking book of the month.  Her work is truly unique and completely distinctive.  It reminds me quite a bit of the early work of Hayao Miyazaki or, really, the more youth-oriented products of 1970s-80s anime in general.  Yet, there’s also a European edge to all of it as well, most particularly expressed in Zullo’s moody, dusty colors.

The book has a very young, energetic feel to it, but one that’s also laden with emotion.  Through her work, Zullo doesn’t just tell a story or convey emotion though.  Rather, she oozes that emotion, as it permeates her work, which is as much about mood as it is narrative.  Furthermore, Zullo doesn’t just translate Wagner’s script; her distinctive style allows her to create a unique, and very special, world that feels all her own.  The result is a book that feels like Chrissie Zullo’s Madame Xanadu, more than it does “Matt Wagner’s Madame Xanadu, drawn by Chrissie Zullo.”

Her work is also varied as well.  The life of main character Sammy is rendered in those dusty colors, everything draped with a sense of sadness.  However, when Zullo draws Sammy’s space-adventurer dreams, the book suddenly becomes a child’s storybook, full of vibrant, simple colors and softer, easier artwork.

Wagner’s script compliments Zullo’s work for the most part, which is an interesting reversal of the writer/artist relationship we usually see in comics.  Wagner’s mood is all about mood and atmosphere; it sets a tone of sadness, disorientation, and loss.  Wagner does a good job of portraying Sammy as childhood innocence lost and adrift in a world that has no place for it.  The result is a truly tragic book and a really somber feel that contrasts with the childish aura of Zullo’s work well.

What’s Not So Good: Unfortunately, in being primarily devoted to mood and atmosphere, there’s not really much in the way of actual story from Wagner.  The actual plot is very basic, and most of the book is just spent focusing on Sammy in the midst of some form of suffering.  Really, the sum majority of the book is just the kid wandering around the city, neglected, and feeling alienated and lost.

The predictable twist ending is also problematic.  I have no qualms with tragic endings or downer books in general, but this felt a little too much from Wagner, a little over the top.  It’s just so depressing and so dire that it borders on being unintentional comedy.  Even if this were not the case, I think Wagner goes too far.  I understand that the point is the destruction of childhood innocence by adult forces, but these adult forces are shoe-horned into the ending in a way that feels weird and unnatural.

It’s as though Wagner piled every bad thing he could think of to afflict poor Sammy’s childhood at the end.  Prostitution, drug addiction, you name it.  It would have been far more effective had Wagner simply used one of these elements, but instead he overdoes it and ends up leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

Conclusion: One of the best-looking comics of the year with a script that can’t quite keep up.  Vertigo needs to get Zullo on an ongoing.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans