You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.

*Ironclad Must-Buy Dept: I missed this the other day in my Diamond shipment roundup since it (rightfully) wasn’t listed with the comics. Yet I would be negligent in my blogging duties, liable for blogging malpractice even, to pass up a New Comics Day opportunity to sound the trumpet for a guaranteed coffee table masterpiece:


Nearly 600 pages of all-new prose and argument, straight from the mouths of Sim and his readers.




I, for one, cannot imagine a better use of $30. The homeless and starving don’t need that money, and you know it. Buy this book, and if you don’t have the cash, rob your local grocer to get it.

Jack Cross #1

This is, on first glance, an almost beautifully schizophrenic book. Practically dreamlike, really. I’m almost certain now, having completed a closer read, that much of this feel is totally unintentional, but damn if I didn't think there was something queer going on beneath the hood, modesty mixed with ultraviolence crossed with a type of madness. But what is it they say about the cinema of Dreyer? That some of his loveliest visual effects were discovered through camera malfunction?

Jack Cross is a DCU book. As I pointed out the other day, there’s a really odd sequence of automatic weapon slaughter that’s almost completely devoid of blood. It looks like the hapless victims are being kissed by dozens of tiny dots of flame, Will ’O Wisps summoned to suck out their souls or something. Artist Gary Erskine doesn’t even draw in any environment damage; bullets are seen striking walls, furniture, a window, a goddamned lamp - yet nothing is breaking or shattering or giving way, save for a lone pizza box. It’s like a hundred tiny spontaneous combustions of individual cell clusters, all broken out at once. I sort of liked it, and I wondered if it was an intentional distancing effect.

And then, I reached the final quarter of the book, which is devoted to a bloody torture sequence. Our hero, liberal activist cum deadly agent-for-hire Jack Cross, brutally works to shatter the will of a murderous, mysterious DHS turncoat by blowing off his fingers with a pistol, one by one. It seems to go well, yet Cross, on the final page, is plainly haunted. Is he going insane? Will we bear witness to a torn-apart agent's mental breakdown splashed across the stage of national intrigue?

No. No no, there's a far more mundane series of explanations; first and foremost, DC has apparently (maybe? possibly?) printed a page out of its correct order, specifically the issue’s penultimate story page (the one where the traitor is whispering “Please.”), which I believe is intended to appear right after Jack yells at the screaming fellow that he’ll never touch his wife again. I wonder if this is an across-the-board gaffe, or if I merely own a special copy. Or is it not an error? Certainly, the resultant continuity slips in the 'misprinted' edition have managed to convince me through their sheer number that we’re bearing witness to a production mishap rather than any intentional trickery or rampant sloppiness. Cross cracks the traitor in the face with the butt of his pistol, a thick rope of blood issuing forth. On the next (misprinted) page, the man’s head is entirely clean. The suspect’s hand is bandaged on one page (and two of his fingers seem to be damaged, including the one that Cross points his gun at in the second shooting, though the color is really muddy), and naked on the next. A cup of coffee appears on the table from out of nowhere, obviously meant for earlier in the story.

And yet... I'm torn. Cross says "Ten minutes and I come back for the next finger!" after the first finger is blown off. Is the page correctly placed, and the visual continuity simply that bad?

Of course, printing errors can’t excuse the fact that the blood smear on the interrogation table changes position, shape, and size from panel to panel. An awkward view of Cross exhaling cigarette smoke is resized and recycled later in the issue - one page later, that is. On that same latter page, Cross’ head seems to temporarily contract, like a gently squeezed balloon, beginning in a stout, round sort of state (panel 2, the recycled panel from the page prior), then his cheekbones suddenly become thin (panel 3 - also note how one of his eyes seems to be drifting off to the side while the other one stays straight), then stout again (panel 4). Coupled with the largely damage-free miniature firestorm from earlier in the issue, I’m forced to conclude that the images and contrasts that so arrested me at first can only be attributed to a mix of intermittently-enforced DCU content restrictions coupled with possible manufacturing gaffes and plain old visual laziness. I’ll not get into the general stiffness of Erskine’s character art, or how a trio of corpses somehow magically vanish in the middle of a surveillance video - it’s just a bad-looking book, simple as that.

What a letdown. Well, there’s still one good thing I can credit the art for: Erskine does pretty well with character faces. I sort of dug the sad grimaces on the lips of a posse of gunmen. And that gleam in Cross’ eyes on the final page is certainly well-rendered, though now it only signals writer Warren Ellis having his cake and eating it too, gesturing toward the horrid toll that torture exacts on good people while merrily playing it up as The Way To Get Things Done in exciting fiction. Maybe he has more to say on the subject. Hell, maybe he’ll do something with Cross’ presumed inner conflict, which is currently limited to (1.) that final image, (2.) the occasional frowny face, and (3.) cynical dialogue that an Ellis protagonist of any political stripe would readily spit toward the supporting cast (it doesn’t take a tortured liberal to understand the inter-intelligence conflict seething in today’s US, after all). But what we’ve got right now is a too-typical thriller set-up, an extended interrogation, and some really dodgy art.

But hey, does that make the disturbingly unreal mood I felt on that first read any less authentic for being an accident? Can't my initial impression stand?

I mean, can you blame me for grasping at straws?