It’s hard to pin down exactly when it happened, maybe it was the “Tomb Raider” game, more likely it was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Xena”, but around twenty or twenty-five years ago a new sub-genre of action/horror/sci-fi starring badass female protagonists was born. No Angel #1, written and created by Eric Palicki and Adrianne Palicki, fits right into that sub-genre. And if the issue feels overly familiar to anyone who has seen any other examples in this field, it’s executed well enough to offer some surprises and features a central character that is engaging and rounded.
Hannah Gregory has returned to the small Wisconsin town in which she grew up and from which she fled. Her flight took her initially into the military, where she saw combat, and then to Chicago as an FBI agent. But the brutal and baffling murder of her brother and father have brought her back to Tucker’s Mill. And as she struggles to deal with her grief, she also finds herself having to navigate a difficult relationship with her mother while compelled to investigate the murder herself. That investigation takes her into places she never expected, forcing her to confront secrets about her family and leading her to make a discovery that changes everything she thinks she knows about the world.
To be honest, reading this issue made me feel like it was the pilot episode of a new CW or other extended cable series starring a beautiful and fierce young actress in the role of tough woman dealing with supernatural or horrific threats every Thursday at 9 pm. We’ve seen so many of these kinds of shows, from “Lost Girl” to “Orphan Black” to “Blindspot” to “Tru Calling” and so on and so on. The fact that this series is co-created and co-written by actress Adrianne Paliciki, who frankly should be starring in one of these kinds of shows already, doesn’t do much to mitigate the fact that this is a set up and protagonist that we’ve seen many, many times before.
But, as with all things, the proof is in the pudding. And the execution here is pretty solid and the structure is well-defined. Hannah may be representative of a trope, but she’s an engaging example, with a strong personality and a compelling and original back story loaded with secrets and hidden resentments. Her badassery doesn’t feel unrealistic or unearned. Her relationship with her mom and her family is interesting and she’s given a plausible sidekick/love interest. Far from being a decompressed debut issue filled with world-building and character but light on story, the issue has a great shape, as things progress and steadily build, getting crazier and more sinister. If No Angel #1 feels a lot like the premiere episode of a new action series on FX, then at least it feels like one that would get you to tune in to episode two.
The art by Ari Syahrazad is good throughout. It evokes Michael Gaydos or even Steve Epting in places, especially their skill at crafting a grounded realistic grittiness that can still embrace a heightened reality when called for. The action is handled well, with good clarity and a strong sense of pace. Overall the artwork matches the well-structured quality of the script, with the layouts highlighting the moments that need to land, but without slowing things down.
But I had an issue with the colors by Jean-Paul Csuka, which at times felt unmotivated and too stylized. The bulk of the issue felt like it was perpetually taking place at sunset, with an abundance of reds and oranges that didn’t feel motivated by anything. There were times when the choice made sense, such as a nice scene lit by candlelight. But in the places it just felt too much for me, such as a scary scene where Hannah is attacked on a street at night. In that scene, Hannah is colored red, while her attacker shifts between orange and a more golden color. I didn’t feel the colors were consistently stylized enough to communicate an unrealistic approach for the sake of emphasis or aesthetic, rather I was left wondering where the hell the red light was that was making Hannah colored completely crimson. I couldn’t help but feel a more subdued palette would have better served the spookiness of the art.
In the end, No Angel #1 sees the Palicikis having crafted a solidly engaging debut issue that overcomes the familiar aspects of its sub-genre with an interesting protagonist and an intriguing and creepy central concept. The art by Syahrazad is strong and fits the material to a T, promising many moments in the future to see how well the art team merges the gritty procedural and family drama aspects with the supernatural components of the story. All in all, No Angel #1 may not be the most innovative first issue, but it is an enjoyable one that has some promise. 7.5/10.
No Angel #1 will be released by Black Mask Studios on Nov. 30, 2016.