Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Still Crazy After All These Years

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 2nd, 2014

Variant coverBodies #1
Writer: Si Spurrier
Artists: Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ormston, Tula Lotay & Phil Winslade
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Dezi Sienty & Taylor Esposito
Cover artists: Fiona Stephenson (regular)/David Finch (variant)
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint

Vertigo has become a very different entity than it was when it was first formed. The days of long-running horror or mature-readers titles penned by stalwart talent are over (or at least are coming to an end), and instead, it seems to be populated by various limited series and one-shots. Fortunately, as the Eisner-winning The Wake recently demonstrated, it can still be home to some unconventional and even challenging storytelling. The first issue of Si Spurrier’s Bodies seems like the beginnings of a similarly strong and intriguing story. The premise of a serial killer’s activities spanning decades and even centuries is a decent hook but didn’t seem altogether novel, but Spurrier populates this comic with a number of strong character studies that make me want to see more.

After a clash between police and anti-Muslim bigots on the streets of London, a mutilated body turns up. More than a century earlier in 1890, a similarly mangled corpse lies in the street. Decades in the future from now, another body is discovered, just as one was during the Blitz in 1940. All four bodies abused and torn up in exactly the same way, and all four found on the same street in London. Four different detectives investigate, unaware they’re becoming part of a mystery that will span more than 150 years.

Normally, seeing four artists listed in the credits for one standard comic book would concern me, as it would tend to suggest a product that was rushed to meet a press deadline. But instead, the writer is collaborating with four different artists because his story is set in four different time periods and features four different detectives delving into the mystery. Distinguishing among those four different yet similar elements with significantly divergent visual styles is a great idea. None of the four artists disappoints with his/her performance here, and I’d be hard-pressed to pick a style and presentation here that stood out as my favorite. Lee Loughridge’s colors help to set each different time apart as well, and his use of muted tones — like minor chords in colors — reinforces the sullen, dire mood of this unusual tale of murder and misery.

The 1890 sequence, with its many references to Jack the Ripper, was a little disappointing, because I felt we’ve seen this scenario a bit too much. As with From Hell, there are the expected appearances of prostitutes, hypocritical men of privilege and a secret society that’s up to no good. I liked the detective’s dedication, but it too felt familiar.

Easily the most interesting character in the book is Detective Whiteman from the 1940 setting, and the reason is clear: he’s the most detestable of the four detectives. He’s brutal and racist, but he’s also trying to hide who he really is from those around him due to the stigma brought on by the events of the time. He’s also completely comfortable with who he is and what he does, despite the fact that what he does is often barbaric. His confidence is as impressive as his actions are revolting. Conversely, Detective Maplewood from 2050 is probably the most likeable figure in the book despite her cognitive shortcomings. It’s actually probably due to that aspect of her character, really, as her seeming cluelessness and memory issues make for a surprisingly innocent and blissful character in an otherwise downtrodden book.

Speaking of Maplewood, while the core mystery in this comic is clearly who is killing these people in a particularly brutal way and how s/he is doing it over the course of 160 years of British history (and future), I’m much more intrigued about what has marred the UK in 2050 and what caused Maplewood’s trouble with memory and language. It might be the population has been stricken with some kind of affliction affecting cerebral function, or perhaps Maplewood is some kind of Omega Woman who’s gone insane. I don’t know, but I honestly want to find out. 8/10

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