Amidst my pile of the known, this week, I opted for the unknown. Dennis Hopeless and Mike Norton bring an interesting melange of noir, action, suspense, and convoluted tropes to a mini-series that leaves me slightly bedraggled more than blown away. ‘The Answer’ in it’s first outing (of four) is hard to peg. From scene to scene, moment to moment, or even panel to panel… the overarching story isn’t anything new. Normally this is where the indie-spun books tend to play for style points over substance to make up for the lack of originality. Well, I can’t say that the book has that either, save for a potentially interesting main character, and a memorable super-hero costume. With all that being said, let’s ask the questions, to peel back what makes ‘The Answer’ tick.
The story, credited to both Mike Norton and Dennis Hopeless is as I said it was; a first issue crammed with concepts, sprinkled with action to force the story forward. We open on a crisis: Devin, whipsmart librarian and puzzle lover, is asked to leap for her life. And then we jump back to four hours before to truly start the story. Peppered throughout the twenty-five pages are a jumble of to-be-sorted-out scenes. The Answer (think Punisher, punched up with punctuation) deals with an armed robbery at a convenience store. A motivational speaker waxes poetic about the potency of chaos. Devin opens an apropos birthday gift from her mother, and click-clacks away at a series of puzzles. And eventually The Answer shows up, and we’re back to where we started.
What the book earns with moxie and kinetic energy, it lacks in cohesion and segues. Scenes spill out on top of one another without enough connective tissue to read as the same story. Given that this is a mini, it’s obvious that all will be revealed soon enough. What we’re left with is a single chapter in a book that will only be worth a sit-down, if consumed all at once. As is? ‘The Answer’ #1 is schizophrenic. But don’t get me wrong. The book is not bad. Not at all. Taken in snippets, Hopeless delivers a decent turn of phrase and rising action well enough. Had he reduced some of the plot-by-way-of-every-other-
Of all the notions being spread out on the canvas, it’s Devin that elevates the book beyond the norm. She is a real-world Reed Richards, minus the pseudo-science. Bookish and a bit cold, she instantly warmed me over. Here, our proverbial damsel-in-distress keeps our attention through her quippy inner monologue. It’s not often our protagonists are so matter-of-fact, and for what it’s worth, following her on this mystery is a solid hook.
Devin aside, Hopeless and Norton don’t give us enough on anyone else to warrant anything more than a fleeting thought. There’s a potential supernatural nature to the titular hero, but given how ‘real-world’ the story seems to present itself… the more obvious explanation to the ‘seemingly impervious’ hero is one that merely opens more mystery to the grand tale being told. As I said before: as a concept, it’s strong enough to warrant seeing the story through to the end.
Artistically speaking, this book is Mike Norton’s bread and butter. A potent combination of well-drawn anatomy, expressive faces, and smartly placed layouts and backgrounds (or lack thereof) gives the book the ‘Big Two Housestyle’ feel that elevates the issue on quick glance as being worth a glance. If I’m allowed a gripe, I’d note that Mike doesn’t take many visual risks… which does make the book feel less exciting than other indie books I’ve been reading lately (Clone, Nowhere Men, or the more expressive and creepy Revival). If I’m allowed a second gripe, Mark Englert’s colors just don’t do it for me. His palate of murky browns, oozy yellows, and slimy greens permeate almost every page. Combine this with an occasional lack of texture in clothing and skin leaves the book feeling a bit waxy to me. One last note, of which I can say is only positive: the titular hero himself is as visually striking as any recent superhero in comics today. Norton’s ability to be the antithesis to Jim Lee just makes me smile. Maybe I’m easily amused? Who cared. No Nehru collars, complicated inner stitching, or thigh pouches permeate the costuming. Combined with the continual shout outs to Norton (and my) home city of Chicago… and I’m a happy camper.
Ultimately I’m on board for ‘The Answer’. Issue #1 suffers a bit in it’s overly kitchy story structure, and predictable starting threads. But thanks to solid artwork, a memorable leading lady, and a guy getting shot in the ding-ding with a shotgun… there’s plenty to like here. As I continue to drop off the big two, it’s these creator-owned pieces that will fill in the gaps of my pull list. While it’s not a perfect outing, ‘The Answer’ is (if nothing else) genuine. Here I see Mike Norton (and Dennis Hopeless) giving us a taste of who he is. Of course we haven’t seen any pugs yet. But give it time; ‘The Answer’ is certainly worth yours.