Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Voice Lessons

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 14th, 2014

A Voice in the Dark #s 1 & 2
“Blood Makes Noise” parts 1 & 2
Writer/Artist: Larime Taylor
Editor: Dannty Donovan
Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow Productions
Price: $3.99 US each

That’s right, I’m back after a long hiatus. The dormancy of Eye on Comics doesn’t stem from site issues, personal illness or some ’round-the-world excursion or anything. More pressing, everyday concerns seemed to trump my writing about comics, and honestly, I think I was a bit burnt out on it. But after writing yesterday’s review, I felt re-energized, and with the snow melting, I needn’t worry about snowblowing, wood-fetching or deck-clearing. What follows below is a review I had mostly written when the Big Break happened, so I’m behind a bit on the series. But don’t let that mislead you into thinking the comic book discussed here is one that should be overlooked.

I’ll be honest: the Top Cow brand isn’t one to which I pay much attention. Defined by its titles that represent the Kewl excesses of the 1990s (such as Cyberforce and The Darkness), Top Cow Productions has rarely offered a title that’s really held my interest (at least of the ones I’ve sampled over the past 20 years). So when I saw the promotional material in my Inbox for this particular Top Cow book, I didn’t expect much. Still, I decided to take a few minutes to “thumb through” a digital copy of the first issue. A few minutes turned into 30, as I drank in the first issue and then the second. And then I read a message from the writer/artist/creator in the back of the first issue. The broad concept cover blurb quote — describing A Voice in the Dark, as Dexter meets Strangers in Paradise — isn’t a bad description, but it really only scratches the surface of this powerful, character-driven sample of storytelling. Voice (which has its roots as a self-published Kickstarter project) is as far removed from the typical Top Cow comic as one can get. It’s morose and brooding, but somehow, through Larime Taylor’s exploration of an extreme personality disorder on the part of his protagonist, he manages to tap into something universal through her ennui, fear and loathing of the superficial personalities that sometimes surround her.

In a lot of ways, Zoey seems like an average young woman. She’s starting college in California, loves her sister and has a keen interest in broadcasting. She’s smart as a whip and perceptive. But there’s a lot more going on below the surface, and some of it isn’t pretty. Her sister is actually a gay friend whom Zoey’s family adopted after she was disowned by her blood relatives. She’s also the person for whom Zoey first killed, sparking the young woman’s ongoing struggle with her dark side. In an effort to sate her urge to kill, she takes on a college-radio, nighttime, phone-in show, seeking out the dark secrets of others and vicarious sins. It works — far too well.

I was impressed with how expressive the characters are visually in this comic. There’s a strong sense of realism at play, and the backgrounds are quite convincing. I initially found Taylor’s art was rather photorealistic in tone; my feeling at first was that it almost too much so, perhaps the result of lightboxing photo references. But then I read a note at the end of the first issue, in which the creator reveals he’s physically disabled to the point that he draws digitally with his mouth. That he accomplishes so much with the linework in the face of that challenge is impressive. His art is strong — but not because he’s able to do a good job in the face of his disability. It would be strong artwork even if he drew conventionally. It suits the tone of his personal and unsettling story incredibly well. Furthermore, the black-and-white approach to the art also works nicely with the subject matter. The greytones reinforce the sullen atmosphere that permeates these comics. Also noteworthy is the fact that despite his use of several young women as pivotal characters in the story, he doesn’t sexualize them simply to titillate the reader.

The first-person narrative captions take the reader inside the protagonist’s head and offer up a thoroughly believable portrait of a twisted (or broken, depending on one’s perspective) young woman. Her insecurities are surprisingly relatable, and her devotion to her friend and adopted sister make her truly shine as a heroine in the story despite her darker leanings. Maybe what’s most admirable about Zoey is her self-awareness. She knows exactly who she is, and while she doesn’t like everything about herself, she acknowledges her innate qualities and takes steps to address, control and even accommodate them. The characters are racially and culturally diverse. And most of all, Taylor taps into a sense of emotional disconnection and angst among his young characters that flows from a cultural shift western society desperately needs to understand.

Now, A Voice in the Dark isn’t a perfect comic book. There are some flaws to be found here. Sometimes, it’s difficult to discern exactly what’s happening. Taylor’s character designs are sometimes far too similar to one another, and the flow of the action in the quiet, unnarrated scenes is rarely all that clear. But the plotting and dialogue more than make up for anything that’s lacking about the comics (which doesn’t amount to too much). There’s a wonderfully personal, poignant and intelligent tone to the dialogue and narration. I appreciate the dark tone of the characterization. Taylor manages to make a killer the heroine of this story, and he humanizes her without softening her sharp edges. A Voice in the Dark was one of the best surprises I happened upon in 2013, and that helped it stand out as one of the better comics I read last year as well. 9/10

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2 Responses to “Voice Lessons”

  1. Bruce Earls Says:

    Hi Don,
    I absolutely agree with you about A Voice in the Dark, it is an excellent comic and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

    I wrote to recommend looking at a couple of other new TopCow titles, as I have found a few recently that are nothing like the ones you mentioned above. Funny thing, three of the four I mention are not in color, same as A Voice in the Dark. I don’t think it is a strategy, especially based on Matt’s talk at ECCC, I think it is more that TopCow is willing to take chances.

    Think Tank – This is the one that got me reading TopCow, and in fact was my first non-Marvel book, bought due to seeing Matt Hawkins at Emerald City Comic Con. I am really interested in science, and it is a mostly real science look at a world a lot like our own. I recommend the trades, there is a ton of information, including links to further reading in the back. He points out how much of what looks on the surface to be science fiction is actually real, and leaves the reader with a lot to think about. Further, the characters are well developed and continue to evolve as time progresses.

    Shotgun Wedding – This is a tale of secret agents, assassins and the like, with a love triangle thrown in for fun. It has just started, but the first two issues have been really good.

    Tales of Honor – This is an adaption of the David Weber Honor Harrington series of novels, only one has been released so far. I’ve read those books, and mostly love the adaption(the internet is pretty unanimous that the treecat is drawn wrong, that reference won’t make sense if you haven’t read the books). I’ve heard from people that haven’t read the books that they didn’t understand it as much as I did, so mileage may vary.

    Sunset - I haven’t had a chance to read this yet, waiting for the TP to come out. However, the first Think Tank trade had a preview in the back that looked awesome. It is an older man of action, with his past coming back to haunt him.

    Thanks again for the support for A Voice in the Dark, I agree that it is a great comic.

    Bruce

  2. Ultrapaul Says:

    Hey Don,

    You might want to try a SAD lamp for the winter.

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