I’ve grown a fondness for Aftershock publications thanks to the brilliance of Super Zero and Jackpot (each has a collection out and is worth picking up if you haven’t already done so). As such I take a punt on a number of their titles and so far have enjoyed most of those that I have read.
Betrothed #1, which came out this week, is an excellent example of what Aftershock do. I will sum up the comic’s synopsis based on what I knew about it before buying and then I’m going to have a look at one particular page. Warning: Contains some spoilers.
It is called Betrothed
That was it, that’s all I knew. So going into it everything was pretty much a surprise and this comic really took my breath away and left my jaw hanging open. I was surprised by the powerful image on the very first page, which is a belter, and then the story twists and turns, never letting the reader get a comfortable. Sean Lewis starts his story in a physical place everyone would recognise but within moments he is dragging you away and throwing you into the deep end of some cosmic craziness. To even call this a science fiction fantasy is to give too much away. The closest contemporary comparison I can think of is the second series of Dirk Gently on Netflix; each has a normal element and a fantastical element and both are effortlessly interchangeable.
Steve Uy draws in a style which fits in well with a number of previous Aftershock comics I have read. His inks focus on the characters, laying them clearly in the foreground, while the backgrounds are mostly rendered using elaborate colour washes. This works especially well for the main character’s astral journey as it creates a brilliant cosmic effect, similar to Star Gate’s interplanetary jumps.
Betrothed is an impressive first issue, and something a bit different which is what Aftershock seem to be all about.
One page in particular stood out from this first issue of Betrothed. It might not seem the most obvious choice, especially when you look at all of the action that happens in the story, but this page sums up the intention and subtler qualities of the storytelling.
Page 5 is made up of three, page wide panels with the top two being the same size while the third having a little extra height. This is important.
Panel one: Kieron, the self-styled Romeo. Panel two: Tamara, his Juliet. Panel three: the two of them together, face to face.
It starts with Kieron facing Tamara, who is off panel. We know by the set up on the previous pages that he is looking at her but this image highlights the intensity which he stares at her. His expression is hard and his eyes are nearly closed as he scowls across the school hall way.
That distance between them is illustrated by the row of lockers that take up half of the first two panels. The way that Tamara takes up the right side of the second panel while Kieron is on the left in the first gives the reader the impression that there is a greater distance between them. The simple positioning in these two panels are interpreted by the reader as different ends of the same hall way, as if it is one panel split in half to fit in the book.
Tamara has the same intensity in her expression and stance as Kieron before her. Another aspect becomes apparent at this stage; the shadowing on the characters. Kieron is lit from the front, the shadows falling under his chin and on the back of his neck. Tamara’s shadows fall in contrast to this; darker face and front of neck. The contrast is almost a ying/yang moment; as if each character has a dark and a light element that is mirrored in the other. It transpires that the story is about these two characters being created for each other and that is reflected in this page of art.
The final panel shows both characters face to face, within close proximity to each other. It doesn’t feel as though any time has passed since panel one and two but all of a sudden the characters are there, in each other’s faces. It’s as if some outside force had brought them together: which of course is the case. These two are naturally drawn to each other, they can’t keep themselves apart and this panel illustrates that perfectly. The gap the reader had imagined thanks to the first two panels has disappeared and now they are almost touching. The smouldering eyes and pouting lips from each of them emphasises the electricity between them.
The Romeo and Juliet references throughout the narrative fit perfectly with the images which Steve Uy is creating, especially on this page. There is an unbridled attraction between the two which cannot be denied or ignored.
Why is this page so important? Simple: it sets up the strength of the central character's attraction to each other and subtly explains that they were made for each other. When the narrative unfolds and Kieron and Tamara’s origins are revealed, this page it is an affirmation of the energy between them. The rest of the comic explains what the reader has already figured out thanks to Uy’s amazing artwork on this single page.
Under the control of talented creators, three straight forward panels are able to tell the reader so much about the characters and hint at the greater story, implanting a number of ideas in the reader’s head even before the story has really got going.
An excellent beginning to a series.
Written by Sean Lewis
Drawn/coloured by Steve Uy
Published by Aftershock