Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

D.B. and the Bear

Posted by Don MacPherson on March 14th, 2012

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1
Writer/Artist/Colors: Brian Churilla
Letters: Ed Brisson
Cover artists: Churilla (regular)/J.H. Williams III (variant)
Editor: James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $3.99 US

It’s an interesting week in comics, with some high-profile debuts. Marvel’s capitalizing on the buzz leading up to its Avengers with the launch of yet another Avengers title, with an A-list creative team, and tongues are wagging over the stellar work writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have to offer in the first issue of Saga from Image Comics. I’m a bit concerned, though, this opening salvo in a new Oni Press project might fly under people’s radar, and if so, it’s a shame, because it’s a spectacular new comic stemming from a creator’s singular vision and effort. The Secret History of D.B. Cooper is wildly entertaining read. It’s goofy and grotesque, mysterious and manic. Writer/artist Brian Churilla uses a fascinating footnote in history as a launching pad for a surreal adventure full of international espionage and monster hunting, complete with a teddy-bear sidekick. The creator’s vision for this incarnation of D.B. Cooper strikes me as a cross between Parker (the hero of Richard Stark’s novels and Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novels) and Hellboy. Fans of such comics as The Goon, Chew and Butcher Baker will kick themselves if they miss out on this strong new entry in serial comics storytelling.

D.B. Cooper is known throughout the world as a mysterious and daring hijacker who potentially escaped from the law with hundreds of thousands of dollars in ill-gotten ransom. But it turns out he didn’t retire to a quiet corner of the country or spirit himself away to a tropical paradise. Instead, he was a government agent tasked with seemingly impossible missions — impossible not only in difficulty, but because they involve mountainous monsters in worlds that don’t (or shouldn’t) exist. As gruesome as his job is, though, Cooper is haunted by something far more personal and down to earth: the memory of a daughter he left behind.

Churilla’s art on D.B. Cooper is reminiscent of that from another Oni Press title with supernatural elements: The Sixth Gun. Churilla’s designs and action here are slightly more exaggerated and less realistic in tone than the work of artist Brian Hurtt. There are other elements in the visuals that remind of the styles of such other artists as Kelley (Batman: Unseen) Jones and Eric (The Goon) Powell. Churilla’s design for the title character is unlike the potential D.B. Cooper’s one might meet in retrospectives on the History Channel. This vision of Cooper is of a tall, strong, impossible-to-kill tough guy. He’s more of a scrapper than a spy, even though the plot would cast him in the latter role. His overall look reminds me so much of Cooke’s take on the afore-mentioned Parker from The Hunter and The Outfit, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a direct inspiration involved in Churilla’s choices.

I particularly enjoyed Churilla’s design for the ursine companion Cooper has during his journey on the twisted, alien landscape. the mix of cuteness with clear corruption is appealing and unsettling, and Churilla really makes the character pop with a darker, glowing color choice. His color work throughout the comic is solid. His use of dull, muted tones and darker, bolder ones add to the tension in the plot and drive home the bizarre, supernatural riffs that run throughout the book.

Though he’s dabbled in writing before, Churilla’s been best known as a comic artist, but with D.B. Cooper, he demonstrates he’s no slouching when it comes to plotting and scripting either. The writer/artist has clearly constructed a complex world of intrigue and the supernatural as the foundation for this ongoing series, and he’s woven those story elements onto a tapestry of real history. Don’t get me wrong… he hardly goes through the actual details of the D.B. Cooper case here. Rather than building on the facts, he builds on the legend. He transforms the mythic status of the D.B. Cooper story by adding elements that are literally mythic in nature.

The plot in this first issue raises a lot of questions. Churilla immerses the title character in mystery. We don’t know why he’s monster-killing on a surreal psyche-scape. We don’t know how it’s connected to a Soviet bureaucrat. We don’t know what the teddy bear is about. We don’t know why Cooper hijacked the plane or what became of the cash. We really don’t know much of anything, but the way Churilla presents his story, the mysteries are part of the fun. There’s a clear sense of a plan, that the writer/artist is headed somewhere with these characters with a purpose. And despite the darker and weirder elements in the premise (or perhaps because of them), there’s a playfulness to the writing that adds a lot of character to the concept. This is a tremendous new series, and it serves as another example of Oni’s quiet but consistent effort to expand its reputation as a publisher of fine graphic novels to one that’s also building a strong stable of ongoing titles. 9/10

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One Response to “D.B. and the Bear”

  1. Talking Comics with Tim | Brian Churilla | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] O’Shea: A recent review of the first issue by Don McPherson notes “His overall look reminds me so much of Cooke’s take on the afore-mentioned Parker from The [...]