Spontaneous #s 1 & 2
Writer: Joe Harris
Artist/Cover artist: Brett Weldele
Letters: Douglas E. Sherwood
Editor: Jill Beaton
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $3.99 US each
Joe Harris was once one of Marvel’s go-to guys for various projects, and in addition to a lot of work on various X-titles, he might be best known (in comics, anyway) as the writer for Spidey spin-off Slingers. But sometime in the 1990s, his name disappeared from the credits of Marvel titles. His name popped up elsewhere, in DC, Image and Dark Horse titles, but more recently, he’s kind of reinvented himself as a suspense writer with small, indy-flavored publisher Oni Press. Ghost Projekt was well-received last year, and I expect this new title will capture readers’ interest as well. Spontaneous is a bit of an odd mix. There’s a pervading, unsettling feeling throughout the storytelling, as we learn of a horrific doom that awaits certain victims while we also get to know the damaged protagonist, but there are also sillier moments. It’s like The X-Files with a dash of The Goonies thrown in for good measure. The thing about this book really interests me but also frustrates me a bit is the supporting player, the intrepid would-be journalist that’s entertaining but not necessarily believable.
Melvin Reyes is miserable. He lost his father years ago under bizarre circumstances, and his mother is ailing. What’s worse is that Melvin knows something horrible. He knows that people in his area are going to die in a painful, inexplicable manner, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. Enter an intrepid, amateur journalist looking to make her name. When she learns of Melvin’s unusual interest and ability to track people who are liable to fall victim to spontaneous human combustion, she sees an opportunity to make her name in her field.
Brett Weldele’s work on this series is impressive. His efforts on these two comics put me in mind of Ben (Fell, 30 Days of Night) Templesmith, and the central concept certainly lends itself to that harsher, surreal approach. The bright but odd color palette further reinforces that atmosphere. While he employs a lot of bright, pastel yellows and oranges, there’s still a pervading sense of darkness and the unnatural. On the other hand, Weldele also ensures that he instills some softness, some humanity in his characters. Characters’ faces are rounded, not sharp or angular, and it works well to ground the story in the face of its incredible and extreme foundation concept. I also like that the characters that populate this world aren’t all thin, model-like figures. The police chief is a matronly woman who looks real and still exudes strength.
Emily Durshmiller, the spunk, aspiring reporter, is a thoroughly likeable character, but I don’t know that she’s the most believable character. Her idealism and ambition are easy to accept, but her approach to journalism isn’t practical or plausible. She reminds me of a 1970s-era Lois Lane, had she been cast in Degrassi or 90210. Nevertheless, her energy and positivity make for a nice balance with Melvin’s melancholy and sense of powerlessness. One of my problems is her reaction to learning of Melvin’s theories and unusual “hobby.” There’s really not enough of a moment of disbelief. Though she doesn’t get completely on board, it seemed as though she should have been more dismissive of the bookish little man before developing a curiosity about his activities and research.
The second issue introduces a new character that I hope (and expect) will return in future issues. Police Chief Donna Milken is a much more realized and credible character, but she’s just as personable and entertaining. I love the juxtaposition of full-time mom and a town’s top cop. Her directness and tough demeanor are softened by her interactions with her in-tow toddler daughter. Again, with this character, we see Harris developing a fine balance, tempering a serious element with something lighter. Of course, he teeters on the edge of including too much of that lightness. The premise is a chilling one, and ultimately, I’m reading Spontaneous for the mysterious, weirdness and darkness.
I was on the fence about this series, mainly because I’m trying to limit my pull list at the comic shop as much as possible. After all, I have a kid to provide for these days… and a Costco just opened up in town. I’ve decided to add Spontaneous to my regular reading, though, and it’s due to Harris’ portrayal of Melvin in the closing pages of the second issue. While we’re not clear on why his mother is incapacitated, seeing Melvin serve as the role of caretaker for a parent far too early in his life really makes him seem like even more of a tragic figure, one I can’t help but feel for. Melvin’s defined by a sadness that feels familiar and relatable. While the notion of a mystery about spontaneous human combustion drew my attention to the title in the first place, it’s the strong characterization that’s holding my attention. 7/10
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