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‘Ash Man:’ Comic Book Review

River ComicsAsh Man tells the story of Devon Ashford, a wealthy industrialist who falls victim to the rage of a jealous business partner. Murdered, cremated, then scattered to the winds, Devon becomes reconstituted in deepest space — for mysterious reasons. The strongest aspect of this book is the artwork, which is beautiful; large pastel venues blend together in what becomes a vertical narrative, dropping the reader lower and lower, as he or she moves toward the moment of Devon’s betrayal. The artwork alone is worth the price of admission, which is good because the story is another matter.

Devon tells his tale of woe in flashback, and the involved events are largely soap opera fodder: beautiful, wealthy people come into conflict over a childish grievance, resulting in an untoward calamity. To make matters worse, these titans of industry have the vocabulary of frat boys — first semester frat boys. At a for-profit school. More than a few comments come very close to, “Hey, man.” While verbal verisimilitude isn’t a make-or-break feature for most comic books, it’s one of the niceties that make assumedly adult works feel, well, adult.

Of course, this is a title called Ash Man, where the cremated hero has the last name “Ashford” and is murdered by fire — so maybe I’m asking for too much when I start demanding storytelling conventions that are not quite so on the nose. This is possible; however, let me return to the artwork for a moment, because it is truly satisfying. Everything bears a noticeable sheen, which is perfect given the glitzy lives that are detailed in this book. Moreover, there are minimal breaks between images, or image sets, so you are literally carried from one moment to the next with zero resistance, and the story basically defies you to consume it in more than one sitting. I could look at images like this all day and not get tired of them.

However, at some point you need to consider this work as the sum of its parts, and the parts that relate to the narrative are troubling. One of the major mistakes here is the decision to tell the story as a first-person flashback — particularly because of the subject matter. We begin knowing that Devon has come back to life, so there can be very little tension in the story, at least for Devon. After all, he must survive beyond anything he can tell us for the premise to work. There are some opportunities for tension to be created around his wife, as her fate is not certain at the beginning of the book; however, this is missed, as are other moments to provide insight into the fates and failures of the other minor supporting characters.

Robbed of its ability to generate tension, the narrative has to hold our interest in other ways. Devon’s life story becomes the central subject of the tale, and most of that story is a bit lackluster except for Devon’s ongoing romance with the woman who will become his wife. Sadly, we only see this courtship from his limited perspective, so the entire affair comes off as somewhat shallow. The artists try to capitalize on this near the end of the story, when we are suddenly introduced to a very different interpretation of the courtship, but by that point too much time has passed, and the implications of the revelation don’t tell us more about Devon and his wife as people in love.

The work can be recommended for its artwork to a general audience.




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