Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Terry Moore
Editor: Trey Moore
Publisher: Abstract Studio
Price: $3.50 US
Well, last week saw the return of Jeff Smith with a new, self-published series, and now, we have Strangers in Paradise creator Terry Moore throwing his hat back into the indy comic ring again. March is proving to be a good month for fans of the best self-published writer/artists of the past couple of decades. Moore’s soft, realistic approach to the human figure is back in full force, and it’s just as pleasing to the eye as it’s been in the past. What’s surprising about this new series is the subject matter. Echo is firmly entrenched in the super-hero genre, and while Moore is no stranger to super-hero comics, it’s certainly not what one expects from his self-published, creator-owned work. This debut issue offers a fairly standard origin for the heroine of the series; actually, the plot is rather cliched. What allows Echo to stand out as something more than a stereotypical super-hero title is Moore’s characterization and ear for dialogue. While the action and premise are extreme yet cliched, the characters remain grounded yet intriguing. I’m not so much interested in what’s going to happen to Julie next, but I am interested in who she is.
The military has decided to test out some new armor technology in a rather dramatic manner, and the men running the show haven’t shared all of the test’s details with the woman who’s volunteered as a subject. When things go horribly wrong, a bystander — a photographer named Julie — witnesses the explosive result. As debris rains down all around her, Julie has no idea that her life is about to take an unbelievable turn. And she’s already got enough problems in her life as it is.
When one thinks of Moore’s visual storytelling, extreme super-hero action isn’t something that comes to mind. In the opening sequence, he does a great job of it; the way he’s laid out the action borders on the cinematic. The art keeps things moving along quickly, maintaining an appropriately hectic and urgent pace.
I was much more taken, however, with the followup scene, in which we’re introduced to the main heroine. Julie is depicted as a lovely woman, but she’s no impossible ideal of the female form. She’s shapely and attractively, but she looks real. There’s a girl-next-door quality in her appearance. While the backgrounds are minimal, there’s still a strong sense of realism at play. Moore has a great eye for anatomy and natural human movement. The details of Julie’s car and kitchen are convincing, and I love the texture that Moore puts into illustrating her hair. His black-and-white art is as appealing as ever, but it’s clear that the “rain” scene would have been much more effective in color. Still, that’s a minor element that shouldn’t be a problem in subsequent issues.
Given the surprisingly conventional plot with which we’re presented in this debut issue, the foil-cover gimmick for this issue is oddly fitting but a bit disappointing. Still, Moore has to try to appeal to a wider audience somehow, and the shiny elements in the cover art should help this small-press book to stand out and catch the eye of the super-hero comics reader. Furthermore, in the context of the story, the foil droplets actually make sense. The gimmick just struck me as another un-Moore-like element.
The opening scene is an effective one because Moore manages to lull the reader into a false sense of security. We think we’re meeting the title character right off the bat, and furthermore, there are comedic beats in the dialogue that entertain and put one at ease. The sudden shift to a perilous moment is unexpected and effective, throwing the reader for a loop. While Moore’s exploration of the super-hero genre is surprising, his approach is well timed. As Marvel’s Iron Man movie approaches, it’s logical to assume that interest in armored heroes will rise. Echo has a shot at riding a potential wave of pop-culture popularity.
The long-term success of the book — at least as far as I’m concerned — lies in the strengths Moore’s audience has come to expect from him. His characters and dialogue are what made Strangers in Paradise a success. It’s a bit too early to tell if Julie will be as compelling a protagonist as Francine and Katchoo were in SiP, but I’m more than willing to find out. So far, Julie seems thoroughly average, but in a good way. Her problems are relatable ones, and there’s an enviable peacefulness in her quiet existence as an artist, alone out in the country. 7/10