Today, Ryan and Drew are discussing Wolf 1, originally released July 22nd, 2015.
Ryan: Stop me if you have read this comic before: a dark, supernatural noir following a seemingly immortal protagonist and featuring Lovecraftian — oh, yes, that’s Ed Brubaker’s Fatale. Or this one, then: a hard-nosed paranormal detective named Wolf tries to right wrongs in a major American city populated by folkloric — yup, you got it, that is Fables. The first issue of Wolf strides over well-trodden territory — really, we have seen this all before. So why, then, does it work so well? Better yet, what is it that Ales Kot is doing better than everyone else?
My opening rhetoric pretty much caught you up on everything we know thus far. Chapter One introduces our man, Antoine Wolfe, as a literal man on fire, set ablaze to test his powers as he gets swept up in the machinations of one of the worst-named characters in the history of fiction, Sterling Gibson. This corporate mogul, a white, sports team owning racist in LA, may be — unless I am wayyyy off here — ostensibly, a thinly veiled reference to Donald Sterling, the disgraced owner of the LA Clippers who earned his exile with some choice racist comments. After being set on fire and walking away with only minor burns, Antoine is deemed worthy by Gibson to lend his…ahem…particular set of skills to the baron. This is Noir 101: the plucky, errant protagonist gets roped into a mystery which seems cut and dry at first glance, but goes on to prove far deeper and more personal than originally feared.
Antoine Wolfe proves, from the first panel of the first page, to be a very intriguing character. In Raymond Chandler’s “The Simple Art of Murder”, Chandler describes the prototype for the hardboiled detective, which happens to also be Wolfe. Kot includes, as the third beat of the issue, a wonderful moment when another person with powers uses his hypnotic ability to shell money for a little old lady on a bus. Wolfe confronts him:
“He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.” (Chandler) This same sense of honor brings him to the aid of his absurd friend, Freddy Chtonic in Chapter Two, in a great side plot featuring vampire landlords — the perfect union between two inherently parasitic creatures. I also love how Antoine handles being jumped by Gibson’s cronies:
“He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.” (Chandler) Wolfe is a loner, as we can tell by his demeanor, but he also suffers from what seems to be a type of arcane PTSD as a left-over from his days serving in the military, wherein he has actual spirits following him around of friends long-lost. The only other person who can see these specters is the other new wrench thrown into Antoine’s swiftly tilting life, the adolescent, Aryan-looking Anita Christ, who finds herself under Wolfe’s protection by the last page of the issue. His code dictates that he assume responsibility for this girl, and only time will tell what sort of doors this will open or havoc it will cause.
Accompanying a great character is a wonderful world brought to life by artists Lee Loughridge and Matt Taylor. The colors rip off the page with a cool fluorescence and the lines are lean and impactful; this LA looks cool and dangerous — like a storm’s coming. And Kot seems to have big plans for this landscape, though the audience is left predominately with ambiguities. How many myths are out there, living amongst us? Why the sudden resurgence? What is the actual scale and scope of their powers?
Drew. It’s a great day to write for Retcon; it’s the best job I know. The crowd desperately needs your opinion on a few things, so I am going to throw a bunch of lingering questions at you. How are you enjoying Kot’s latest foray, merging the grit of Zero and the fantasy of Bucky Barnes: TWS, and a large step away from his pet project, Material? Do you like how this comic handles race? Are they pushing the “drought is the world turning into Hell” thing too far? If Antoine is a Wolf, and German, does that make him the Norse god Fenrir? Why is it ok to have a character with such doofy tentacles on his face? Ok, go.
Drew: I don’t know if I’ll get to all of them, but let’s start with that first question: I enjoyed this issue quite a bit, but I might enjoy parsing exactly how it fits in with the rest of Kot’s oeuvre even more. Fantasy elements coexist casually with more mundane realities — Chtonic’s beef with the vampires amounts to a rent dispute — which is a thread that Kot has woven through much of his recent work. That he’s working with archetypical monsters rather than characters of his own creation does give this a bit of a Fables vibe — one that I ultimately think carries over to this issue’s interest in myth and the power of stories — but Kot takes those elements in a totally different direction. Still, he offers a bit of an explanation as to what he’s doing.
Kot’s aware that he’s turning to an “old, strong story,” but this isn’t a simple retelling. This series will be the crucible through which these familiar characters and situations are made stronger. It may be a painful process, but in the end, the myths will be more suited to the times.
For me, the key difference between this issue and Kot’s other recent output is the setting. Zero, Secret Avengers, and Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier are all globe-hopping adventures that never settle in one location for more than a few issues. Location is important in those series, commenting on the action taking place there, but it changes frequently. Here, the L.A. setting seems much more central to the storytelling. Kot brings it up constantly, especially in the context of having characters complain about how horrible it is. It’s referred to as “Hell” or “Hell-A” throughout the issue, and at one point, Antoine even jokes that there aren’t rivers to turn into blood in L.A. Of course, horribleness isn’t the only thing Kot finds appealing about L.A.
There are few places on Earth where fiction and reality coexist so knowingly. That kind of thematic resonance with a location may seem subtle, especially when Kot is then filling it with mythical beasts, but I think it’s the key to understanding where this series is headed.
Or not. I think I know better than to guess where Kot is heading, even when I think I understand the ideas he’s toying with. It’s not yet clear what Gibson is really asking of Antoine, or how that might fit with Anita Christ’s story, and its only at the end that we fully understand Antoine’s Sixth Sense-style torment. We may have a sense of what themes might be addressed, but exactly how Kot comes at them is anyone’s guess. Heck, I don’t even know what he’s going to find when he opens that door in the vampire’s place.
Which is to say: I’m hooked. It doesn’t take much more than Kot’s name on a cover to get me to pick something up, but this series is already a bit more approachable than some of his more recent output. That doesn’t mean its better, necessarily — just that it’s easier to know that I like it, even if I’ve read something like it before.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?