Krakenshadow’s two-view: The Paybacks

Debut issues of comics get all the press, the lion’s share of the reviews, and more than their fair share of the sales. Certain publishers exploit this trend shamelessly. When deciding whether to get on board for the long haul, I think it’s better to wait until I can read the first and second issues together. And now, The Paybacks #1 and #2.

The Paybacks was originally an ongoing series at Dark Horse, but they cancelled it after a handful of issues. That annoyed me, because I was enjoying it. Fortunately, Heavy Metal (as in the magazine, lately brought under the editorial oversight of an obscure comic writer called Grant Morrison) decided to publish this comic and it is now carrying on where it left off.

After some time away, The Paybacks is back. Is it as good as it was before? Does this really count as a debut duo, since the book actually started last year? Have I broken my own rules already? Oh, um… Look here! A picture of a dude with light coming out his eyes:

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Pitch it! Seriously? Am I trying to get it published? No, I’m not. If you must know, it’s about some superheroes who do high-risk asset reclamation on behalf of a sinister bank. They repo other superheroes. It is tongue-in-cheek.

Any interesting thoughts? Many. You can find some of them on my famous weblog; for instance, how much do you know about ancient Germanic pagan religion? About these two comics, dummy! Oh. We-ee-ll…

Geoff Shaw’s a good artist. His style reminds me a little of the sainted Sean Murphy, perhaps a bit less confident with deep perspective and with a slightly coarser line, but also a bit better at simple conversational scenes and character acting. The storytelling skills are pretty silky, flow across the page is generally good and there were very few panels which left me confused. There was not a lot of action, but this is probably the area Shaw could work on the most. He tended to crowd his panels and lose connection between scenes when trying to generate a sense of movement.

To be fair, though, he was being very space efficient: just one double-page spread (in #1) and that was well populated with inset panels and a lot to look at. When he used whole page splashes, he kept them relevant and impressive: in #2 there’s a splash of a really big minotaur with a cute little inset panel. He’s witty throughout: the ‘spoofer-hero’ (I just made that up!) sub-genre rather requires homages, and they’re nicely done here. As well as twists on familiar heroes and villains, Jay and Silent Bob appear quietly in one panel and #2 ends with a splash page which riffs on a frequently done comic homage. A slightly gratuitous scene dedicated to Heavy Metal was a bit weak, but understandable given the book’s publication history. Colours, by Dee Cunniffe, ran flattish and a bit too dark to let Shaw’s fairly heavy inks shine: when there was a stronger contrast in a scene or more mixed palette, the drawing made a noticeably stronger impact. There’s almost a sense that the art team are a little oppressed by the overall talkiness of the book.

Donny Cates and Eliot Rahal were the wordsmiths here, and they kept the plot trundling along and a consistent barrage of banter going. There were some pretty subtle (by my standards, anyway) jokes too. This, for instance, from #2: “…Communication is critical. [Page break.] I don’t think I need to tell you what the consequence for poor communication is.” Haha! Perhaps the writing was a bit verbose, and some of the dialogue was struggling for space which didn’t help the lettering. In the fifth-of-a-page panel that held the back half of the quotation above, there was another subsequent speech balloon squeezed into the right edge. The writers did do a good job of quickly establishing the back-story in issue #1, so there was no need to have read the aborted Dark Horse series to get up to speed. They also had a bit of fun with the synopsis material in the front matter: the character bios in #2 comprised comments on which comics the characters are currently reading. Nice touch.

I’m more of a sequential narrative art junkie than a story whore and I’ll happily buy a comic for the pictures. So far in The Paybacks, I enjoyed the dialogue quite a lot, but don’t currently care much about the characters or plot. This wouldn’t be a series for the graphic novel brigade, but then it is a comic which is actually, y’know, comic. It’s not trying for a Pulitzer.

I mentioned verbosity above, and it didn’t help that the lettering was mediocre. I felt that the balloons were just a bit small, and the text felt crushed and prone to arbitrary line breaks which upset the flow. Perhaps the letterer, Taylor Esposito, was trying too hard to respect the art even though, in a lot of panels, there was clearly enough space for larger balloons. Not a deal breaker at all, but going forward in a wordy book like this it would be good to see the lettering actually use the room allowed for it. The writers could probably help with a shade more concision, and whoever’s in charge of layouts could give some extra attention to the pacing of the dialogue across each page.

One additional plus: it is only $3.50 in a world of $4 comics. (Okay, I know the DC afterbirth issues are ‘only’ $3, but mostly they’re bi-monthly, at least until the artists spontaneously combust from overwork.)

So, what’s the score? Score?! Much like the supreme computer game website, Rock Paper Shotgun (former home of now-lauded comic scribe Keiron Gillen), I don’t do scores. My opinion may be discerned from the words I wrote.

But you gotta give a score! Humph. Fine. Henceforth, all my comic reviews will deliver a clear binary verdict: either crap, or Conan!

Cool! And the verdict? The Paybacks is… um… Nearly Conan!

How is that a clear binary verdict, you cheating swine? Hah! I intend to buy the next issue, but I won’t be wetting myself with anticipation. Is that clear enough?

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