Welcome, or welcome back, to Read Pile, where I, Keigen Rea, and hopefully a large, ever-growing mass of individuals will be, as EIC Dave Shevlin put it, “reducing our read piles to read piles,” and writing about those books, one at a time.
This Read Pile is by Lan M, one of my favorite new(ish) critic/tweeter/shitposter alive today. Follow him @LanTweets (https://twitter.com/lantweets?s=21) and hey! Hire him to do some design stuff! He does a good job. LAN’s here to talk about Reckless by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Jacob Phillips, published by Image comics.
If there’s one word that can describe Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, it’s “reliable”. The amount of success and following that the duo have achieved over the past twenty-or-so years is admirable, to say the very least. With a bibliography spanning several publishers and hundreds of issues, I’d be remiss to say that they don’t know what they’re doing. As a creator, there’s a huge level of comfort in knowing that for whatever you put out, there will always be a sizable audience ready to engage with it. Their labour came to fruition once more last year with the release of their hit graphic novella Pulp, which sold out at most retailers within a few days of release. But how have things changed as the duo moves towards exclusively releasing Original Graphic Novels (OGNs) instead of serializing their stories as single issues first?
The “OGN vs. Single Issue” debate has been a prevalent discussion in the comics atmosphere ever since trade paperback collections began to proliferate in the early 2000s. With stories trending towards decompressing and telling story arcs across five to six issues, the question arises: “Is there any reason why this couldn’t have been an OGN?”. There’s no easy answer to that question, especially taking the plethora of factors at play into consideration. But when Brubaker and Phillips moved to an OGN-only release format, they did so with good reason. In the afterword of Reckless, Brubaker delves into some of the logic behind the switch in formats. In keeping true with the pulp hero genre, Brubaker felt it was best to bring Ethan Reckless’ stories as full-fledged novels rather than dividing it up into serialized chunks first. By going the way of classics like Jack Reacher and Parker, albeit in comics form, Brubaker and Phillips could put out three OGNs within the span of a year, knowing they had the acumen to meet those deadlines.
What story can be told by Reckless’ fore-edge?
But let’s talk about a different story first. The story that isn’t told within the pages of Reckless, but on the edges of them. The fore-edge (the edge of the page opposite the book’s spine; thanks Tor.com for the primer on book anatomy) of a comic can say a lot about a book. Take, for instance, the fore-edge of Fire Power Volume 1: Prelude.
It’s a book that interchanges between using black gutters and white gutters on its pages, and it shows on the fore-edge of the book. The story being told here is one of Chris Samnee’s artistic choices with regards to setting tone and mood with the gutter colour. Now, look at the fore-edge of the three Klaus hardcovers.
The story being told here is that these are very fancy books that you should all get, not for the shiny gold-leaf edges, but for the fantastic stories within. But I digress. Let’s take a look at Reckless’ fore-edge.
If you look closely, you’ll notice two white horizontal bands. These are actually the horizontal gutters of each page. It’s a small detail, but it shows that Brubaker and Phillips build their stories with 3-row pages, in which the outermost panels extend to the edge of the page. This isn’t exclusive to just Reckless, but given the length of the book, tiny details like this become more visible. So why bring this up? The three-row panel structure allows for pages that are both visually striking and easy on the eyes, and creates a pace and rhythm to the reader’s reading of the book.
Earlier, I brought up the question “Is there any reason why this couldn’t have been an OGN?”, but let’s consider the opposite: Is there any reason why Reckless needed to be an OGN? For that, you need to look at the structure of the story. Consider Ram V and Anand RK’s Blue in Green, from October of last year. It’s a fantastic OGN that’s split into four chapters, with each being the length of an average oversized single issue. One could argue that the story could have been serialized as a four-issue miniseries prior to being collected in trade (though it’s much better as a single OGN), and that’s in part due to the way the story is structured. Building the story in a way where each chapter has a definitive beginning and end creates clean breaks at which a reader can pause, then pick up the story at a later time. Reckless, on the other hand, is a contiguous experience. Even with its titled “chapters”, the story flows continuously from one part to the next. It’s a book that’s tough to put down once you start, and it’s built to spend an afternoon with.
Reckless’ innovation is in its format, not its story. The continental shift in moving to an OGN-only form of storytelling is where Reckless truly shines. That isn’t to say that the story being told isn’t good; it’s great, actually. But Reckless isn’t a revolutionary step forward story-wise; it’s more of what we’ve come to expect from Brubaker and Phillips.
But there’s an interesting comparison to be made between Reckless and another recent release. Let’s talk WW84. No, I’m not twisting this into a whole other review, namely because I don’t have enough room to talk at length about what a mess that movie was, but it’s worth dredging up for the sake of how it portrays the 80s. WW84’s motif is drenched in the aesthetic of the 80s, but not the spirit. It presents the 80s as this idealistic era of hope, when it’s anything but. It uses the fish-out-of-water Steve Trevor as a surrogate for the viewer to convince them that the story needed to be in the 80s. But Reckless acknowledges the 80s for its hedonism and self-destruction. Ethan Reckless does what he does in spite of the end of the world as he knows it. He acknowledges that the world is consuming itself into oblivion, and yet he chooses to try and put back some good into the world and shed his past. No easy answers, no easy solutions.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the central conflict of the two stories. Reckless follows the eponymous Reckless as he goes on an investigation-turned-quest-for-revenge spurred by the return of a face from his past. WW84 follows the eponymous Wonder Woman as she investigates the circumstances behind the return of a face from her past. Seems relatively similar at first; however, the latter is a story of idealism without consequences, an antithesis to what the 80s were truly about. The consequences of the drug war, the AIDS crisis, and interference in the middle east are not things that can be easily wished away. There are no real consequences for the faults of the characters in WW84; at worst, you have Diana losing Steve Trevor again (but hey, no consequences for having sex without the consent of the man whose body Trevor possessed!), but even the main villain of the story gets to walk off scot-free. Every wish, good or bad, gets us wished, and the genie goes back into the bottle. But in Reckless, actions do have consequences. The actions of the past have negative consequences on the future of the world, and Ethan Reckless is unable to undo the mess that he had a hand in creating. He doesn’t get to escape his past, and he’s left changed by the experience.
At its core, that’s what Reckless is about. A flawed man who’s been shown a horrid future trying to save the present while being haunted by the past. It’s a story that grips you from the get-go and coalesces into a journey spurred by reckless anger. It succeeds not only as an OGN, but as the launchpoint for an upcoming trilogy. Now, it’s up to its sequel, April’s Friend of the Devil, to continue a longstanding streak of reliability.
Welcome to the end of this Read Pile, where I remind you to come next time, which should be some kind of Valentines special of some sort. While you’re here, shoot me a DM on Twitter (@prince_organa) about writing one of these yourself! You can ask Dave, but he’s probably busy playing a Mega Man game and running the whole rest of the site. I’m always accepting pitches and I thinks it’ll be a fun time.
Thanks again, stay safe!