Creating a new, fleshed out world from scratch is tough work — it’s why so many new series fail so quickly. They either don’t spend enough time giving readers a sense of their universe or they wallow in world-building exposition so long the reader loses interest in the story. The key is striking a balance between narrative progression and world building, a balance that Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, and Lee Loughridge have struck with CRUDE. CRUDE #3 is an expertly crafted, thematically rich issue with multiple narrative twists that cement the series as one of Image Comics’ best new titles.
By the time readers close this third issue of CRUDE, they will have a clear understanding of exactly what day to day life in the refinery city of Blackgate entails. Garry Brown’s illustrations work in perfect tandem with Lee Loughridge’s drab, muted color palettes to create the aesthetic of a rotten and derelict society. Machine laden factories are juxtaposed with seedy strip clubs to showcase a city with duality, one that works to the bone but seems to play just as hard.
Duality is a key theme throughout this issue, grounding both the setting and the narrative into a more gritty, realistic feel. Issue #2 may have given the sense that nothing in Blackgate was black and white but #3 makes the ever-present grey area more apparent than ever. This issue goes to great lengths to create a diverse, intricate society that has no clear good or bad guys, no wrong without some sort of right.
The city is presented visually as bleak, run down, and even violent, yet it remains a refuge for the outcasts of Russian society because of the exponential pay and sexual freedom. The Meshe Adam fight back against the corrupt oil corporations running the city but do so by killing innocent workers through suicide attacks. The oil corporations work their employees to exhaustion yet pay them handsomely and allow them complete social freedom. CRUDE is so interesting because every aspect of its world is more than it seems, operating in a yin-yang relationship exemplified in #3.
CRUDE #3 offers deeper insight into protagonist Piotr Petrovich, showing he’s more troubled than past issues have lead on. This is the first issue to really hone in on just how disturbed Piotr has become over the loss of his son, Kiril. Multiple gut-wrenching panels show Piotr literally haunted by the ghost of his deceased child, as a boyhood Kiril lingers around his hollow apartment.
One particularly striking panel shows Piotr dragging the apparition of his boy’s coffin around Blackgate as Kiril rides atop, showing no matter where he goes Piotr can’t escape the guilt of his son’s death. The art does a fantastic job displaying the emotional impact of such loss and Orlando tactfully allows these moments to play out with little to no dialogue, really emphasizing the silent but persistent pain Piotr is in.
Violence plays a vital role in CRUDE‘s storytelling, with Piotr often pursuing his investigation into Kiril’s death through violent means. The violence is perfectly executed for this grounded series, though — it’s swift, brutal, and used only when necessary. Over the top action sequences or immensely gory panels would dilute the realism embedded in this narrative, so these sporadic yet brutal fight sequences just add to the sense of this being a real, breathing world not too far removed from our own.
Even with such wonderful, thematic world building and character progression in this issue, the narrative still manages to plod along at a fantastic pace. Just when readers think they have a handle on who is good and who is bad, Orlando hurls a curveball at readers. Not only do these twists align themselves with the overarching theme of duality, but they create a more intricate and intriguing mystery that I for one cannot wait to dive headfirst into over the coming months.
My only complaint about this issue comes in the audio cues drawn into fight frames and moments of action. Rather than use typical “Crack!” “Snap!” and “Bang!” indicators like most comics, Orlando and Brown opt to draw Russian words instead. While I appreciate the attempt to really submerse the reader into the Russian setting, these random foreign letters often hindered the flow of the action, causing me to pause an extra few seconds to make sense of what was going on due to an unclear audio cue.
CRUDE continues to deepen its narrative with each release while simultaneously offering a world that is much more intricate than most seen in modern comics. CRUDE #3 is a near-perfectly executed issue that highlights the duality of the world of Blackgate with excellent character progression, unexpected story developments, and a beautifully illustrated world. This is not a series readers should miss.