There’s a lot to love about Image Comics’ Newburn. It’s a brilliant concept from the get-go: a private investigator hired out by the mafia to keep the peace. And when it comes down to it, that’s all this series really needs to be successful. Newburn can come in, month after month, solve investigations and kick ass. As readers, I think we’d be pretty happy with that. But writer Chip Zdarsky, and artist/colorist/letterer Jacob Phillips aren’t satisfied with that. They’ve taken it a step further. Newburn #2 is full of complex and human characters. They aren’t simply part of the “investigation of the month.” These characters have a story that’s bubbling beneath the surface. A story Zdarsky and Phillips want to chip away at slowly.
Zdarksy doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable parts of his script. While Newburn is a character we’re supposed to root for – or at least want him to succeed in solving mysteries – we also see that he’s the kind of guy who can shrug off death with disturbing ease. Yet Zdarksy also shows that Newburn’s a little disturbed by his own callousness, too. And so we get to the meat of the story. Zdarsky places our characters in a tug-of-war of ideals. Do they want to be inhuman and legendary in their ability to get things done? Or do they want to cling to their conscience in a world that’s begging them to look the other way? Zdarsky presents these ideas with subtlety and subtext. He introduces this dilemma through pregnant pauses and unanswered questions. It’s wonderful and chilling at the same time.
Emma still has some feeling in her. Phillips shows her smiling, frowning, grimacing, and yelling. But through all these scenes, Newburn doesn’t change. He throws a punch with the same look on his face as when he’s walking down the street. He only ever looks concentrated. Here, Phillips shows us that Emma is Newburn’s connection to normal life. He’s pretty far gone. He’s been doing this for a while. But Emma still sees it for what it is: interesting, terrifying, and thrilling work. Phillips focuses us in on the differences between these two by showing us their faces as often as possible, zooming in on their smiles or (in Newburn’s case) lack thereof. Phillips tells us so much about these characters in the simplest ways.
Phillips’ coloring is quite subtle. Many of the scenes have no vibrant colors in them. That’s not to say these panels aren’t stunning. Phillips’ colors somehow manage to look messy, while also looking meticulously planned. He gives every page an uneven painted quality which is outright beautiful. But what we’re seeing are office buildings and quiet city blocks. There’s not a ton to get emotional about, especially not for our characters. So Phillips renders these in soft colors that blend together. The scenes feel gentle and unassuming. Yet when Newburn dodges a punch, or throws one, Phillips colors the background in bright red. He mesmerizes us with the quiet scenes, then wakes us up for the thrilling action.
Phillips takes quite a straightforward approach in his lettering. The fonts don’t change, the word balloons remain mostly the same. There isn’t a ton of sound effects. But this is a crime procedural comic. This uncomplicated approach matches the tone of the series perfectly. And the one time Phillips changes things up, it’s incredible. When Newburn and Emma sit in the back of a car and chat, we see them as reflections in the car mirror. Phillips shows their word balloons coming from off panel, each tail directed at a side one of them is sitting on. He uses the reflection to show us where they’re sitting, then keeps the word balloons out of the way of the rest of the picture. It’s a fantastic choice which not only let’s the art breathe, but feels like it places you in the scene with the characters.
Image Comics’ Newburn #2 hits comic shops on December 15th. It shows that this series is going to be deeper than a simple crime story. Zdarsky and Phillips want to know what makes Newburn tick. Pick up a copy at your local comic shop, you don’t want to miss this one!