There’s something kind of fun about going into a new comic with no preconceived notions about it because you don’t know the first thing about any of the creators involved.
Okay, fair enough, I know that one of the writers of the new Black Mask Studios series No Angel, Adrianne Palicki, is a star on the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, but I don’t know the first thing about her writing ability, nor that of her brother and co-author/co-creator (and, perhaps curiously, sole copyright holder) Eric. Artist Ari Syahrazad is a name I’m completely unfamiliar with, as is colorist Jean-Paul Csuka. So, yeah, as far as “unknown quantities” go, this book features nothing but. And that’s kinda exciting.
As is the premise here : a PTSD-afflicted Iraq vet named Hannah returns to her hometown after the murder of her father and brother and immediately smells a rat as far as the investigation goes — there’s some angle here no one is even considering, but what is it? Hannah’s not so good with people in general, which means that her exchanges with the local authorities — one of whom may be a former high school flame — and even her own estranged family members don’t go so well, but all that’s nothing compared to the rapid-fire revelations that will follow. For one thing, her old man appears to have been carrying on a years-long affair. For another, she’s even got a sister she never knew about. And for yet another, said sister doesn’t appear to be, well — human. I’ll say no more than that, but the cliffhanger splash-page at the end of this first issue makes one thing perfectly clear : this comic only seemed like it was a police procedural, in actuality it’s — well, let’s just say the title should probably be taken literally.
The Palickis have delivered a smart, sharp, quick-moving script here that gives you terrific insight into their protagonist and sets the stage for an intriguing mystery at the same time, and the dialogue is authentic and well-timed. They’re not afraid to let the pictures tell most of the story, but even though the whole thing can be read in about 10 minutes it doesn’t feel like an insubstantial comic in the least. There’s plenty going on in this issue, and the particulars are laid out with a minimum of fuss and plenty of gritty, street-level style. Chances are you’ll end up reading it twice, back-to-back, just like I did.
The art, unfortunately, is a bit more of a mixed bag : there’s nothing wrong with Syahrazad’s illustration, per se, but it’s definitely derivative — it’s a pretty fair approximation of Andrea Mutti, and given that Mutti’s style is an approximation of Alex Maleev’s, well — let’s just say the artistic family tree is readily apparent here, and that each branch, unfortunately, seems to yield diminishing returns. Csuka’s colors don’t help matters a whole lot, either, opting as he does for an extremely limited palette with curiously-chosen dominant hues signifying different points in time. The Iraq flashbacks awash in gaudy greens and yellows are particularly tough on the eyes.
Still, that can get better with time — one hopes — and the story here is certainly strong enough to keep me around for the duration provided it doesn’t go off the rails. No Angel is ambitious, highly involving stuff that gives no clear clue as to where it’s going or how it’s going to get there. That sort of uncertainty usually makes for an exhilarating ride, and this looks to be one that I’ll be happy to be along for.