Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

You Don’t Know Jake

Posted by Don MacPherson on November 15th, 2012

Where Is Jake Ellis? #1
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Artist/Cover artist: Tonci Zonjic
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Who Is Jake Ellis? was one of the most fun, intelligently written and stylistically impressive comic books I read last year, so I was eagerly anticipating the property’s return with this second limited series. Writer Nathan Edmondson has crafted an international intrigue comic that feels like something Greg Rucka could have written, spiced up with superhuman/supernatural elements. It’s interesting to note the indicia page for this debut issue labels it as the sixth chapter of an ongoing story, but a shift in the dynamics and a jump ahead in time from where we left off with Who Is Jake Ellis? allows this to stand on its own. It’s also quite accessible. While I definitely got a charge by revisiting with these characters and seeing how they’ve changed, Edmondson offers a two-page “Previously in…” spread consisting of pages from the previous series, a novel way to bring new readers up to speed and to refresh the memories of those of us who’ve been along for the ride from the start. There’s a fun and undeniable Jason Bourne riff at play in this book, but the fantastic elements Edmondson’s added and the understated intensity that artist Tonci Zonjic instills in the characters set it apart as well.

Months after he dropped his friend and ally Jake Ellis off at a military hospital, ex-CIA agent Jon Moore remains on the run on a well-organized, funded and collected organization that wants him dead. His ongoing scramble for survival has made him sharper, more resourceful and increasingly more difficult to pin down and kill, but while he’s been able to stay one step of ahead of his enemies, he realizes it’ll ultimately be a losing battle. Meanwhile, Jake Ellis, Moore’s one-time remote-viewing guide through the deadly world of espionage and assassination, remains under surveillance at a naval hospital, but forces are gathering that have nefarious things in mind for him.

Zonjic’s work here is in the vein of other adventure-comics artists with simpler styles. His efforts here are somewhat like a cross between the styles of Paolo (Daredevil) Rivera and David (Hawkeye) Aja. There’s also a strong Dave (Watchmen) Gibbons influence at play in his work here. I love the hard edge he’s instilled in Moore for this series; he looks and acts like a completely different man, and it demonstrates just how much he’s been through “off-screen” to this point. And while I love his eye for anatomy and movement, I think what really sets his art apart here are the colors. He bathes most of Moore’s scenes in eerie, muted tones — oranges and greens and greys — and it brings an unreal tone and tension to the storytelling. It’s interesting to note when the story touches regular people in the “real” world, Zonjic uses a brighter palette. I also enjoyed his use of bold block letters (and outlines of those letters). They deliver clear cues, but they also reflect a larger-than-life and intense quality to the action and plot.

In the first series, Jon Moore was in over his head, always reliant on Jake to get him out of the impossible jams in which he found himself. Moore was never sure why he was being hunted or what was going on. Here, both Moore and Ellis are acutely aware of the threats against them. Edmondson wisely introduces other characters in this followup series to serve as the ones in distress. Both protagonists end up taking people with them to protect. Moore scrambles to keep a woman from the U.S. State Department alive just as Jake tries to keep the nurse who’s been caring for him out of the line of fire as well.

The revelation at the end of this issue as to the secret of the man who’s been directing malevolent forces in Jon’s direction made for a powerfully creepy visual, but it also represented a logical evolution in the larger plot. We know from the first series that Jake and Jon are products of government experimentation in extra-sensory abilities. That they aren’t the only products of such initiatives makes perfect sense and offers a fitting opponent for this second story arc.

My favorite part of this series is the role reversal Edmondson employs to shake up the story. The first time around, it was Moore who looked and acted like a regular joe only to be aided by the enigmatic Ellis. Here, Moore has taken on the man-of-mystery role, and Jake is the one who’s more vulnerable and down to earth. It’s even reflected in how their appearances have changed. The disembodied, dark figure of Jake Ellis in the first series always appeared to be bald, while Jon had a regular hair of normal brown hair. Now, Moore’s the one with the shaved head, and Jake is sporting a mop of unkempt, brown locks. It’s interesting to see how much more removed from the “real” world Moore has become while Ellis’s hospitalization has brought him a step or two closer to it. 9/10

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2 Responses to “You Don’t Know Jake”

  1. Anthony B. Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the first trade of Who is Jake Ellis? Yes, the story is reminiscent of Bourne, but the art for me is the real treat.

    The composition and style reminds me of Alex Toth, the long-time Hanna Barbera character designer and adventure comic artist. I wish more illustrators emulated the storytelling techniques on display here and spent less time on rendering and “glamour poses.” Great stuff.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    The Toth comparison is right on the mark, Anthony.