Indie Comics Spotlight: Incognegro: Renaissance #1, Days of Hate #1, and Van Helsing vs. Robyn Hood #1


By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Incognegro: Renaissance #1

“So, we’re just going to walk into this white man’s house? And you’re sure I’m invited? Better yet – are you even invited?”

Believe it or not, racism is still around. For all the strides that individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama, and Abraham Lincoln made in improving race relations, there are those who are insistent on tearing things apart and just being bloviating, racist, misogynists in general who just so happen to be President of the United States. There’s still plenty of room for a story like Incognegro: Renaissance #1 from Dark Horse Comics to serve as a reminder that we’ve got a long way to go. The issue is written by Mat Johnson, illustrated by Warren Pleece, and lettered by Clem Robins.

After a black writer is found dead at a scandalous interracial party in 1920s New York, Harlem’s cub reporter Zane Pinchback is the only one determined to solve the murder. Zane must go ”incognegro” for the first time – using his light appearance to pass as a white man – to find the true killer, in this prequel miniseries to the critically acclaimed Vertigo graphic novel, now available in a special new 10th Anniversary Edition. With a cryptic manuscript as his only clue, and a mysterious and beautiful woman as the murder’s only witness, Zane finds himself on the hunt through the dark and dangerous streets of ”roaring twenties” Harlem in search for justice.

The premise that an African-American reporter is light-skinned enough that he could pass as Caucasian is seemingly outlandish upon first glance, yet Johnson knows how to make it work. Much of Zane Pinchback’s “ability” is contextualized within a party in the 1920s thrown by a rich, white novelist with a penchant for exploiting the African-American condition and Johnson uses that to his advantage. The entire issue is Johnson’s way to remind the reader that racial equality is a nice idea that’s flawed in its execution, primarily because Caucasians can never seem to forego their sense of entitlement and superiority. Johnson could easily let Incognegro: Renaissance #1 devolve into a full-throated treatise on how races are treated by one another, but instead he more subtly presents a subset of the notion through the eyes Zane and how an African-American writer’s death is trivialized because of the setting. The majority of the dialogue in the issue achieves this with startling efficiency as Johnson rather effortlessly sets the scene and enforces the narrative by emphasizing the discrepancies in how races are treated.

Illustrating the book in black and white is a fantastic move by Pleece as it further establishes the atmosphere for both the readers and the characters. It also adds a thinly veiled message in that it while even though the issue is black and white the nuances differentiating African-Americans from Caucasians is anything but. Pleece knows and appreciates this fact, defining the characters with familiar aspects of genealogy that ensures the reader can easily see who’s slighting whom and better understand the problems that come along with discrimination. Pleece’s panel layouts are very clean and formal, providing a simple means of allowing the reader to keep up with the party. And there’s an old-school sensibility to the work when looking at Pleece’s absence of color and the lettering by Robins.

There’s a part of you as a reader who really wants to read Incognegro: Renaissance #1 and appreciate that it’s a historic look at a time in this country’s history when racial equality was a pipe dream before becoming a reality. Sadly, Incognegro: Renaissance #1 and what Zane Pinchback has to go through is just as relevant now as it was in the 1920s. Johnson’s script is very cutting in its assessment of the situation in the sense that differences in individuals are emphasized as a shortcoming of others. Pleece’s artwork is a great match for both the story and the era it’s set in, rather brilliantly putting the reader in both the right place and time. Incognegro: Renaissance #1 is an origin story of sorts that doesn’t require the reader to have any knowledge of the main players beforehand; rather, the issue (and presumably series) will stand on its own as a reminder that even though some like to think we’re all created equal there are those who don’t really believe that notion at all.

Incognegro: Renaissance #1 is available February 7.

Days of Hate #1

“Remember when we all hated on 2016 online? Called it a ‘trash fire?'”

It’s not an understatement to say that the United States of America needs a lot of work. People are digging in deeper on their sides, prompting the opposite side to dig themselves even deeper. What it leads to is a continuing spiral of hatred and distrust, something that’s on display in Days of Hate #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written by Aleš Kot, illustrated by Danijel Žeželj, colored by Jordie Bellaire, and lettered by Aditya Bidikar.

The United States of America, 2022. The loss that ripped them apart drove one into the arms of the police state and the other towards a guerrilla war against the white supremacy. Now they meet again. This is a story of a war.

Probably the most terrifying thing about Kot’s script is how closely it hews to reality in the sense that 2022 is not that far off and the state of America lends itself to that outcome. Kot is drawing from current events and not being shy about it, emphasizing the rancor currently swarming the country as the underpinning for his tale of cops and robbers in a sense. The dialogue is pretty snappy throughout the issue and Kot looks at both sides of the war, not really making either one out to be the good or the bad guy. And by the issue it’s most clearly what Kot has in mind going forward, effectively setting the table for what’s to come for all the characters involved. Honestly, the issue flies by in a testament to Kot’s pacing, introducing the reader to the characters and establishing the stage for them to play on.

What really makes the issue feel that much more chaotic is the somewhat haphazard illustrative approach that Žeželj takes in the issue – and that’s a good thing. Žeželj illustrates the book almost as if he were using charcoal, peppering the issue with plenty of heavy, thick lines that serve many purposes. It has another effect in that the characters stand out that much more and allows Žeželj to make them each look very unique despite the notion that they’re essentially on two sides of a war. Žeželj arranges the panels to offer unique perspectives on the features of the characters, adding more emotion to an already emotionally-charged issue. Bellaire nails it on the colors, drawing from a palette of blacks, browns, and reds that work nicely with the bold linework by Žeželj.

Days of Hate #1 is a necessary evil in a way. There’s never really a point in a society where they should feel the need to craft such a work, but the topics and themes throughout are a necessity of the time. Kot’s script is solid and scarily effective at how it evokes events in real-life as an inspiration. The artwork by Žeželj is a perfect complement to the story, drawing the reader into a world rife with heavy tones. Days of Hate #1 is definitely worth reading as a fairly accurate portrayal of the divisiveness in the country now and a potential harbinger of things to come.

Days of Hate #1 is available now.

Van Helsing vs. Robyn Hood #1

“What idiot said baking is relaxing?”

Liesel is a vampire hunter. Robyn Hood is an archer from another time. The two of them are more than capable of holding their own when teamed with one another. When putting their talents on display against one another like in Van Helsing vs. Robyn Hood #1 from Zenescope, then things get real. The issue is written by Ralph Tedesco, illustrated by Allan Otero, colored by Leonardo Paciarotti, and lettered by Taylor Esposito.

Robyn and Liesel learn that they’re each separately on the trail of a seedy crime boss who’s experimenting on humans while developing an extremely dangerous designer drug. But neither Robyn nor Liesel is prepared for what they’ll uncover as the two long-time friends find themselves face to face in an epic battle to the death!

Both Robyn and Liesel are two of the newer additions to the Zenescope universe, but Tedesco doesn’t let that fact stop him from presenting them in a way that both pays service to fans and shows they have a familiarity with one another. Their history working together has pitted them against a variety of opponents and in just about every scenario they’re victorious and Tedesco uses that history to his advantage in making the stakes seem high in pitting them against one another. And Tedesco puts them against one another in a way that doesn’t feel forced in that their personalities bring them to a point that feels like it makes sense for them to square off. The issue does seem to portend that their confrontation will be fraught with a lot more animosity than what Tedesco actually infuses the impending battle with one another. Tedesco’s dialogue is pretty easygoing, effectively capturing the back and forth between Liesel and Robyn.

Otero has a very interesting artistic style in that it seems to rely heavily on perspective – specifically, one character standing out and having some sort of epiphany. Otero’s lack of specificity when it comes to backgrounds makes these moments stand out even more. His linework is somewhat loose in its approach and seems to slightly distort the kinetics and physiology of the characters as they engage one another in combat. The panels are laid out pretty simply for most pages, but there are other pages that are filled with insets and overlays that pop appropriately. Paciarotti’s colors are heavy on greens and blues, which makes sense considering those are the colors of the main characters.

Van Helsing vs. Robyn Hood #1 is exactly what it sounds like with two popular characters being pitted against one another. Liesel and Robyn have always been on the same side in the past so it’s a nice change of pace to see them capitalizing on their talents when faced with one another. Tedesco’s story is pretty sound and gets them to the titular point in a reasonable way. Otero’s illustrations are somewhat spartan in their appearance, but they do handle the hand-to-hand combat fairly well. Van Helsing vs. Robyn Hood #1 is a type of team-up book that eschews the team-up for a throwdown.

Van Helsing vs. Robyn Hood #1 is in stores January 30.

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