Hard-boiled noir meets urban fantasy in Wolf, the new series by Ales Kot debuting this Wednesday. Is it good?
Wolf #1 (Image Comics)
Wolf #1 begins in the hills of Los Angeles, CA, where a man by the name of Antoine Wolfe sings as he burns alive. It’s a haunting way to begin, and it sets the tone for the remainder of the issue. Ales Kot’s story in Wolf #1 is about the relationship between the natural and the supernatural and the juxtaposition between this opening and the scene that follows helps to establish that.
Antoine Wolfe, a detective, must relay his story of being burned alive to his skeptical superior. The conversation between the two men does a great job of establishing Antoine Wolfe’s philosophy. This is a man who deals with things as they occur. He’s not lax, waiting on someone to abuse him or others, but he’s also not particularly aggressive. And with each scene, writer Ales Kot adds more layers to him, from the way he playfully says “meow” to a dog, or the constant struggle he has with the voices in his head. This depth is demonstrated in the way that Antoine Wolfe handles a clandestine meeting with Sterling Gibson.
Antoine is abducted by Gibson’s henchmen and brought to his manse in order to discuss a potential job for the detective. Wolfe reluctantly agrees; Antoine is not particularly pleased at the prospect of working for the racist Gibson, but it’s a price he’s willing to accept for the pay. Ales Kot acquits himself well in this scene, as Wolfe comes across as appropriately pragmatic. When dealing with race, there are a number of pitfalls that writers stumble into, making the characters come across as harmful stereotypes. Wolfe isn’t overly submissive here, and baits Gibson into dropping the ceremonial proprieties.
At the same time that readers are getting to know Gibson, they’re also being introduced to a complex world of hypnotist magicians, Lovecraftian monsters, and vampires. These elements are all brought into the story in a matter-of-fact way that helps sell the idea that these supernatural beings are all part of the otherwise natural world. When readers are introduced to a young girl of importance to the issue’s final pages, it’s through a murder scene as she stands in a state of shock while detectives try to assess the situation. It’s uneasy imagery, but while there are paranormal undertones, the scene could just as easily belong to an episode of Law & Order and that equilibrium between fantasy and reality is what makes Wolf #1 a spellbinding read.
Matt Taylor’s artwork here is outstanding. For the most part, there’s nothing particularly flashy here, just gritty character work and real-world environments. But Taylor’s artwork imbues a flavor onto the page. The layouts and angles chosen to present the world all give off a claustrophobic atmosphere. When the panel isn’t tightly focused on a subject, it’s filled to the brim with details. This is a world that’s never quite empty, something’s always moving just underneath the surface, and Taylor’s artwork really sells that.
Lee Loughridge brings a remarkable color palette to the issue. The washed out colors add to the weight of the artwork. The sepia tones of the day sky add a certain heaviness to the proceedings, as if the city were dripping in some ethereal ooze. There’s also dramatic uses of deep blacks that help to sell both the noir aspects of the story as well as the fantasy. When Wolfe meets with Sterling Gibson, the shadows surround the room and Gibson’s face is often cloaked, giving him a truly sinister feel.
Is It Good?
Wolf #1 is a captivating debut from Ales Kot, Matt Taylor, and Lee Loughridge. Kot’s impeccable ability to build a world by dropping the reader straight into it makes for a pleasantly disorienting experience. Readers may find themselves rereading the issue immediately in order to get a better bearing on the proceedings.
The artwork by Matt Taylor and color artist Lee Loughridge does a great job of making the fantastical seem real and the real seem supernatural. The decision to make the opening chapter an oversized one is a smart decision, affording Kot’s script the pace it needs to set both the mood and plot in motion.
Wolf #1 hits stores this Wednesday, July 22nd.