Pherone softcover graphic novel
Writers: Patrick Baggatta, Jim Sink & Viktor Kalvachev
Artist: Viktor Kalvachev
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $14.99 US
In some respects, Pherone demonstrates the versatility and strong artistic possibilities that lie in computer-enhanced comic art. In some respects, Pherone reads like an adolescent boy’s idea of the perfect action story — one with a lot of sex. In some respects, Pherone is a worthy sibling to such crime/espionage books as Sin City, 100 Bullets and Criminal. In some respects, it’s really about atmosphere above story, about the surface rather than substance. There’s a lot to like about Pherone, but there are also a lot of elements in the book that made me roll my eyes. Pherone is nevertheless a lot of fun in its own gratuitous way, but maybe what’s most interesting about it is its history. The story was originally published in serialized form in Kevin Eastman’s revived Heavy Metal magazine, and I can see this material fitting in perfectly with that publication. After all, if Heavy Metal was about anything, it was about sex and violence. And that’s what Pherone offers in spades.
Eve is beautiful, alluring, mysterious and deadly, and when she takes on a mission, the target doesn’t have a chance. But as lethal as Eve can be, she’s also lost, inevitably emerging from a haze hours after a successful mission, completely in the dark as to what happened, what she did or even who her friends are. On a mission, she’s focused, unnaturally strong and impossible to stop. Afterward, she’s confused and vulnerable, but still skilled and able to protect herself from those she perceives as enemies. Eve is the perfect assassin, one who forgets the job and the identity of her employers. She’s desperate to understand what’s happening to her, but turning to old friends might prove to be her undoing.
Viktor Kalvachev’s artwork is sometimes chaotic, but it’s always attractive. His influences are as apparent as the protagonist’s sexual attributes. One can’t help but be reminded of the works of such artists as Frank Miller, Dave Johnson, Sean Phillips, Duncan Fregredo, Dan Brereton, even Mike Mignola. Most of all, though, the visual style of Pherone reminds me most of 100 Bullets. Sure, the limited use of color is reminiscent of Miller’s efforts on Sin City, but the use of shadow and the intensity of the characters’ glares put me in mind repeatedly of Eduardo Risso’s noir style. I really love the way Kalvachev plays with color, especially computer color effects. I love the orange glow of a gun in an early scene. The fiery aura makes it clear what the real focal point in the scene is, drawing the reader’s eye away from the scantily clad heroine. There’s also a sudden shift later in the story as the story flashes back to Eve’s role in a mission three years before. Kalvachev takes us from the noir backdrop that normally defines the story to a shockingly colorful, even garish scene of exotic excess. It’s a mesmerizing effect, jarring at first but always interesting.
Of course, the T&A factor in this book is amped up to the extreme. It’s not enough that Eve often poses as a prostitute in order to get closer to her targets. She’s also got to be a lesbian with a former lover whose physique is just as impossibly flawless as hers. Kalvachev and his co-writers transform Eve into whatever fantasy they want her to be. One of the central conflicts is that she has so little control, that she’s manipulated by others. She’s as much the creator’s toy as she is the other characters’. Sometimes, the sexuality works with the storytelling, but often, it’s so over the top that it takes the reader out of the story.
The latter back of this book features some supplementary material that shows the evolution of the property, the visual style and the publishing history. And we’re talking about a lot more than just some design sketches and a script excerpt. There are deleted scenes and something referred to as “a pilot,” a short story that served as a launching pad for the more complete story. It was what caught Eastman’s eye, and it’s interesting to see how much different the visual storytelling was early on in the process.
Kalvachev and his co-writers immerse the main character in mystery, in confusion, in intrigue. The problem is that at first, it makes the storytelling seem almost random. Initially, the reader is led to believe Eve has some sort of multiple-personality disorder, but the answer is simpler yet more convoluted than that at the same time. The plot comes into focus in the latter part of the book, almost too clearly all at once. One can almost hear the creators whispering into your year, “See? This is what’s been really going on the whole time.” I don’t mind some mystery. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy it. But there’s so much effort expanded on keeping the reader in the dark that it hardly seems as though there’s much plot in the first place. Still, I have to admit that the ballsy, over-the-top, unrelenting noir atmosphere is tremendously fun. The blackness of the visuals and, to be honest, the cheesiness of the intrigue are enticing. 6/10
Note: This book is slated for release Sept. 14.
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