Lifetime reader of comics and fan of Planet of the Apes. When the two combine I can barely contain myself. Image, Boom and Titan comics fight for shelf space with Doctor Who DVDs.
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The first arc of Cry Havoc from Image Comics comes to an end this month and our contributor, Darryll Robson, takes a look at the previous 5 issues in preparation.
With Cry Havoc Simon Spurrier and a handful of artists have produced a supernatural horror comic steeped in mythology and modern narratives. The concept of a ‘story within a story’ has been taken that one step further by making the characters themselves personifications of modern and classic myths. Elements of war stories, family dramas, ghost tales and modern myth making are all blended together beneath the overriding horror theme. Louise, the central character, is the epitome of Werewolf tales but she is just ‘story’ incorporated into this meta-narrative.
Cry Havoc: The Story So Far:
The story of Louise Canton is pieced together across three different timelines. In the Beginning the reader is introduced to Lou and her girlfriend, Sam, at the Zoo where Sam works. This section of the story, color themed Blue, sets up Lou’s life and then proceeds to knock it down after she is attacked by a mystical wolf creature. The beast possesses her and turns her into an uncontrollable killing machine. There are remnants of An American Werewolf in London during these scenes as Lou tries to adjust her life around her violent changes but this comes at a cost; her relationship with Sam.
The Middle is set in Afghanistan where Lou has joined a team of other supernatural people hired to track down a woman called Lyn Ordell who has gone AWOL. The team members each have a different skill set and they are accompanied by a squad of soldiers; it’s fair to say they don’t get on. As they journey deeper into enemy territory the bonds between them begin to fray especially when the beasts come out to play. They are under strict instructions, from the secret organisation that brought them together, to take medication that dampens their inner beast. Not everybody on the team likes to be told what to do however so as the story progresses their control begins to slip.
The End section of the story sees Lou at her most desperate; a captive of Lyn Ordell who is a megalomaniac woman who wishes to build a new Eden for out casts like herself. She has a messiah complex but also a following to back her up. In a number of twists and turns it is revealed that Lou is important to the birth of Odrell’s utopian society, or at least Lou’s unborn child is.
There is an extensive cast of characters and the narrative loops through time: one minute being a family drama the next a gritty war story before unveiling a fantasy mutant utopia. Modern myths share space with classic monsters and high drama. All of this is held together by the glue that is Louise Canton, despite the fact that for a large part of the narrative it feels like she is losing control. She is taken from the streets and thrust into a world of blood lust, violence and treacherous intrigue.
The Modern Myth Retold:
Simon Spurrier is using mythology as a way of examining the modern world, in particular the ‘comic book’ format. Much in the same way that Neil Gaiman did with The Sandman or Alan Moore does with all his work, Cry Havoc is playing with recognisable mythology and trying to reinterpret our worlds emerging modern mythology. The comic shows the reader a simple relationship breakdown and an easy to understand concept of modern warfare but juxtaposes this with the New Eden being constructed by the seemingly unstable, religious figure of Lyn Ordell. The need for a Utopian society for the outcasts of this world is an idea that has been a part of Comic Books for decades; the X-Men is based on this premise. It is also the backbone of many super villainous plans, again see the modern X-Men movie for an example of this. Odell is made to be an outright villain from the start, she is traitorous and her cruelty towards Lou is disturbing. However this is contrasted with her ideals, her dreams of a society where the outcasts of the world can live together, free from intervention. Her dream is a noble one and sometimes enticing when compared to the alternatives on show throughout the series. Such as the fact that Lou’s home life is a mess and she poses a constant danger to the people around her, ala Boon from Clive Bakers Cabal. She would be better off in a nurturing environment, nothing more than a legend told on a dark night to scare the children. Then there is the war story that uses those with special abilities to perform atrocities.
When would anyone want to live in a world where this is the price for being different?
What Spurrier is doing in these pages is making the reader question the nature of socially recognisable mythology; he is placing the stories in an environment that we can understand, i.e. the modern day, and then showing us how these mythical beings would live and grow. If there was such a thing as a werewolf how would it survive in the technological age?
Speaking of the ‘Co’, the artwork on the pages of Cry Havoc is divine. It’s a mix of modern sensibilities and classic illustration. Elements of the comic feel like a medieval picture book depicting witch hunts and devil worship, while others are representative of superhero battles between good and evil.
Ryan Kelly has a flair, an attraction even, to modern mythology having worked on such titles as Saucer Country with Paul Cornell. This experience is evident as the modern and ‘everyday’ sits comfortably with the outlandish and mythic. The scenes of soldiers flying into a war zone and a wild spirit inhabiting its victim are styles apart but unquestionably exist within the same world. Each period of the story has a different feel to it, a different tone that seeps out through the art work. A lot of this is down to the colorist’s but it is dictated by Kelly’s exceptional pencil work.
The Horror Of Colour
Color is often over looked when talking about comics but now, more than ever, the right colorist can make the world of difference on a comic. Artists like Jordie Bellaire and Frank Martin are changing the way modern comics are viewed, their work is becoming as sought after as pencilers or writers. Spurrier and Kelly have found a trio of talented colorists to work with and each brings something slightly different to the table. This is a godsend not only because it gives the comics a wonderful aesthetic but also because color is one of the driving forces behind the narrative. The tones and pallet of each time period say as much about the story and characters as the script does. There is an easy distinction between time periods through the use of block gutter coloring: blue for the beginning, a sandy brown for the middle and a blood red for the end.
However color has a larger role in creating the narrative. It helps tell the story of Lou, where she is at with her life and emotions. It focuses the reader into each given moment without having to use speech to distinguish between time periods. A lot can be learned about the use of color to tell a story just from reading these pages.
Cry Havoc is a comic about stories personified in the same vain as The Sandman. There is a central character who has a life and a story all of her own but she embodies a larger myth, a recognisable myth that is under reconstruction. It mixes genres, it mixes art styles, it mixes metaphors.
In the end, Cry Havoc is a bold venture that challengers the very concept of what a story is and dares to ask “what if the ‘stories’ took control of themselves?”
The last issue of this first arc is due out on 22 June. It promises to be an exciting conclusion, not one to be missed if the first 5 issues are anything to go by. But just in case you’ve missed the previous issues the trade collection will be out in August and you can pre-order it now. Definitely one that will still be talked about many years from now.
Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Occasionally he might use his Twitter account: @DarryllRobson
Recreating and revisiting myths of various ages, this comic from Image dares to challenge the reader with an exciting horror story. Thought provoking and beautifully drawn, Cry Havoc is a must read comic.