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‘Providence #1:’ Comic Book Review

It was only a week ago that I realized a new series by Alan Moore was hitting the newsstands, days before its release. My placid face as it perused the soon-to-be new releases was suddenly punctuated by enlarged eyes and a dropped jaw.

When I had a moment to myself, I cracked the pages of Providence #1 and was treated to a level of visual storytelling intelligence still rarely explored in the comic industry (or any visual medium, for that matter). Alan Moore writes in Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics, well, he writes a lot in it and I recommend that anyone interested in creating comics buy this and memorize it, but one thing he states is, “If comics are to survive, they need to both change and to become flexible enough to withstand a process of almost continual change thereafter.” While I enjoy the superhero universes of the industry and really enjoy the genre-focused creations of Image, BOOM!, and other like companies, there are only a handful of writers that continue to challenge the reader as much as Alan Moore, who, as a storyteller, not only asks of his reader to go on an unexpected and uncertain journey with him, but, as an artist, forces himself to create something new and different every time he puts fingers to typewriter, finding new rhythms from new inspirations. In this instance, from what I can discern, it appears that the inspiration is H.P. Lovecraft. I know this not because I’ve read Lovecraft (things to do), but because I saw a theatrical production of H.P.-inspired one acts, and one found its way into this comic!

In the first four panels on the first page, Moore tells a story few can cover in an entire comic; it’s heartbreaking while at the same time setting time (early 1919), place (a city), tone (romantic), relationship, and then combined with the first dialogue box, he asks us to consider more than most people consider in a day. I could teach a class based on the first page alone.

And, in this Moore has found a worthy accomplice with Jacen Burrows as artist whose imagery is elegant and, at the same time, somehow slightly unnerving. It’s his placement of the images on the page, the way he moves our perspective around with never letting us lose track of where we are, and never getting too close to any one character. It’s beautifully cinematic and yet withdrawn. We are spectators here, kept at arm’s length, as the main character would have us.

Moore fluidly volleys us back and forth in time, allowing us to get to know our young, driven journalist, Robert Black, as he sets off to dig into a series of suicides that are related to two books in particular, Sous le Monde and King in Yellow. (Did anyone else see the first season of True Detective? Now, I have to find and read this book.) He wants a story that will shake the world around him, yet he is as withdrawn from love as we feel distanced from him. Already we can see themes and conflicts creep into place.

While the book flows smoothly forward, our creators take their time, allowing room to breathe and be still in between story passages. Sometimes, it’s merely a character taking a page to move across four panels to arrive somewhere,  and other times we find ourselves in rooms with mysterious characters doing mysterious things. Together, using visual and story placement, the effect takes on a dream-like quality, slipping bit by bit into your subconscious. I imagine when a trade paperback becomes available, experiencing everything all at once will be pretty awesome. How Moore and Burrows take advantage of this pacing in future issues whether adhering or breaking from it, especially if madness becomes involved, already makes me very intrigued.

As an artist, Burrows’ facial articulations are a treat, drawing your attention to the place he wants you to focus on in an image with a lot going on; this takes real talent. On top of that, Juan Rodriguez’s colors, using sepia tones to distinguish time and cold blues to allow us to feel what the characters are feeling in a specific location, are simply perfect. The great thing about this is none of it is too much but finds a balance between showing and never indulging.

I can’t wait for the second issue. If you haven’t got the first one yet, happy hunting!

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