Echolands Book 1: Hope’s Crucible
J. H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman, co-creators & co-writers; J. H. Williams III, art & design; Dave Stewart, colors; Todd Klein, letters
Image Comics, 2022
Echolands is an ambitious fantasy story. The characters and setting incorporate just about every imaginable genre fiction element: folklore, wizards, vampires, elves, oracles, demigods, mobsters, and even a retro rocket ship. The protagonist is Hope Redhood, a thief who has fallen into the Red: she has destructive powers that she does not understand, and can barely control. She has stolen something important from the Wizard (Teros Demond, who claims to be the savior of the city and the entire world). His pursuit of her and her allies drives the action of the whole arc.
He is so intent on recovering the stolen object that he sends a force under the command of his daughter, a formidable magical being in her own right. The first installment ends with text material (like the interludes in Watchmen) with a statement from the oracle (The Metaphiscist), an interview with the Wizard (from the magazine The Echo), and a page with ads and a comic strip. This pattern recurs through the entire run, sometimes interacting with the main action.
From here the action is nearly a nonstop chase, although Hope and company manage to find a few brief periods of repose. In the end they decide to go to Horror Hill (home of the vampires) in order to get aid for a teammate, and because they think it is the safest place. The whole comic is done in landscape format, which gives J. H. Williams III the space to do the kind of visual magic he is known for from comics like Promethea and The Sandman: Overture. It’s a bravura performance, including characters drawn in their own visual styles and pages with parallel stories told in split screens. I have to say that the landscape format was a pain to read on a tablet–every page had to be expanded to fill the screen–but I am still looking forward to reading the next installment.
Newburn Volume 1
Chip Zdarsky, writer; Jacob Phillips, artist
Image Comics, 2022
Easton Newburn is a private detective who works to keep the peace between New York City’s rival crime factions in this crime noir series. The details of that arrangement are revealed gradually at first. Initially we just know that he is a cold and efficient investigator, a former cop, and has some kind of arrangement with a police detective named Casey. He quickly gets to the bottom of the case he has been called to investigate, and in the process, he offers an assistant job to a young woman named Emily (one of the people involved in the case). The narrative is peppered with her journal entries, starting before we even know her real name. They provide an outsider perspective, before and after she starts working for Newburn.
Over the course of this collection Newburn makes himself useful to his clients in a variety of ways. He and Emily deliver the community activists who burned down a warehouse containing three million dollars’ worth of heroin; solve the mystery of a serial killer selectively murdering members of several of the gangs; and Newburn even goes to prison to become friends with his cellmate, a former family member whose snitching got another family member killed. Another story goes into Emily’s past history as a cop, which figures into one of their current cases.
Newburn is a fascinating character, and certainly a new kind of story for Zdarsky. He is a bit over the top, though: so hyper-efficient that he comes off as a kind of superhero–reminiscent of Donald Westlake’s Parker, as adapted to comics by the late, great Darwyn Cooke. Fortunately, the character of Emily balances that out. Jacob Phillips is best known as colorist for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ recent crime noir comics. He is Sean’s son, and his artwork here is somewhat reminiscent of his father’s work. I look forward to seeing more from him, and from this series.