WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Where do I even begin to review this book? I have so many questions that I need to ask myself before I can go any further. Are you sure that TV’s Jonathan Ross came up with this? is one. Am I still a good person if I really loved this book? is another. Yet another is What will people think of me when I admit that I loved it? The biggest question I have is this: will I ever be able to forget what happens in this book?
“The Revenge #1” is pulp comics fused with the B-movie gore-fests of the late 1970s and early ’80s that we have come to know in recent movies like Grindhouse and Machete taken to a whole other level. Elements of horror are definitely present, as well. How do I mean, exactly? For the love of God: a man has his face cut off while conscious, and that is just the beginning of the book! The opening two pages of this book are so grotesque that they are permanently burned into my brain. Having said that, I must admit that the level of detail in this book is second to none. Ian Churchill’s art elevates this book from run-of-the-mill revenge story to a full-on nightmarescape. The visual style reminds me of the close-up shots in Ren and Stimpy mixed with the old Heavy Metal animated films. Tons of blood and gore with a keen eye for detail that leaves zero room to the imagination. Combine that with the genuinely amoral cast of characters that scribe Jonathan Ross provides us with and what we have is a truly horrific story of revenge gone wrong.
From the very start, you don’t like what these characters are doing. But, as I said, make no bones about it; the people in this book are not easy to like. After a point, you could say that every one lacks any sort of moral compass. The lead character in this book is an egotistical, ungrateful, washed-up, Hollywood has-been. He is a jerk and he is hard to root for in any way. For a little while. Fortunately for him, just about everyone else is an even worse monster than he is. While the past actions of this man prove to be reprehensible, the vengeance that is struck down upon him (I could not resist writing that) is so brutal that it hardly seems to fit the crime. That is what makes this book such a challenge to me: I didn’t even like the guy in the first place. How am I supposed to root for him to exact his revenge? To me, the answer came in the form of the supporting cast. Sadistic German doctors, ravenous Mexican little people with surgical implants, Barbie Doll wives who wants to torture you for your past and your sleazy lifestyle. You name it and this guy has them after him in a bad, bad way.
Over the course of the first twenty six pages, we learn just how someone could end up floating in a pool of buoyant fluids, minus his fingertips and face. Meet one Griffin Franks. A has-been-never-was actor in Hollywood who scored with a hit film in the late ’70s called The Revenger. Basically a bloodier version of Charles Bronson in Death Wish with a gas mask. Flash forward three or four decades, and he is now a wrinkled mess, but again tasting victory from a successful reboot of his only major film. Even after the movie breaks big, he is immediately pushed out of the sequel and after firing his closest friend and manager, he decides to take it upon himself to do a bit of facial renovation down in Mexico. This idea wasn’t his, though. It took the careful and constant negging of his buxom, blonde, trophy wife to convince him. But as soon as he is sedated, he wakes up to realize that the the doctor, the woman, and her new secret boyfriend are all in it together to fleece Griffin of both his skin and his money in an grizzly and elaborate plan that seems destined to fail.
During this time we are taken through the imagination and feverish mind of Franks while he attempts to go comatose, rather than stay awake, as his torturers intend. In his dreams, we revisit many of the women that he has manipulated and left behind. Many of them, if not all, have no face. In it’s place is only a skull. The theme of losing face is not lost on me, and Ian Churchill reinforces it over and over again to a stunning yet cringe-inducing level in one very powerful sequence. Once he involuntarily regains his faculties, our lead makes a choice that Griffin Franks has died in this desolate place. Now, only The Revenger occupies his broken and disfigured body, and the people who put him here are all going to pay with their lives.
All of the place setting could have very easily seemed tedious or unnecessary, but the art doesn’t allow for that. As a reader, you are constantly hit with images of blood spatter, ultra violence, and depravity that holds your attention in place. While to some this might feel excessive or exploitative, to you I say this: that is the point. The genre this book occupies rarely spares on the blood and guts. No one in the book is really justified in any of their actions, fully. But now that the line has been crossed, there is no going back. There is only revenge.
This is a true throwback to the beginnings of Image Comics; when graphic violence was the order of the day in many of their books. Some of you might be too young to remember, but go back and read some early issues of Savage Dragon or Spawn and tell me this book doesn’t fit into place perfectly with that tone. Jonathan Ross and Ian Churchill deliver some of the most gruesome pages in recent memory with this book, and things only seem to be getting worse. Personally, I am a fan of the pulp genre, and The Revenge executes it with aplomb. We aren’t just given an antihero. This guy is a real piece of work and frankly (pun intended ) I am very excited to see how he pulls himself out of this mess. A little bit horror, a lot pulp, and non-stop gore…
“The Revenge #1” gets a pulp-heavy 8.5/10 skinned fingertips
Mike Sains is a Staff Writer at Capeless Crusader. When he isn’t writing, he’s podcasting at various places online. When he isn’t podcasting, he’s collecting comic books, FunkoPop! figures, and vinyl records. You can hear him on Geek Girls, Nerd Boys, The Tower of Sour, and The Inverse Delirium, all available on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter @MikeSains.