by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Every story is a mystery at its start. Themes, settings, characters, and their motivations are all unknown to us at the outset, so the opening chapters of stories are often defined by which of these questions they answer, and which they leave open. In that way, a story ultimately defines what its hanging questions are by where it begins. Does it open generations before the protagonist is born or on the day of the inciting incident? Does its scope start wide and zoom in, or does it start in tight and zoom out? Or, more to the point in many mainstream comics, do we meet the protagonist before or after their loved one is murdered, propelling them on some kind of quest for justice/vengeance? With Crude 1, Steve Orlando and Garry Brown’s choices on where and when to start their narrative reveal a great deal about what they think is interesting about their narrative, but in doing so, may have buried the lede.
Opening flashbacks may be a particular bugaboo of mine, but only because I’m not sure you can flash “back” when you haven’t introduced a “now” yet. That the dates in this issue have to be expressed in terms of its final scenes and not in terms of the first scene robs them of immediacy — these are clearly backstory, so may have been better reserved for a later date. What’s worse, they introduce some dramatic irony that maybe confuses the central mystery of this series: what happened to Kiril on Blackstone? That Kiril’s former mercenary father, Piotr, is on his way to Blackstone to find out is a great hook, but then I’m not sure why we’re given more information than he has.
To be clear, I think Kiril’s motivation to head to Blackstone — that he can’t live openly as bisexual in present-day Russia, but could on the hedonistic frontier that is Blackstone’s island refinery — is a strong one. But since Piotr doesn’t know that information, it seems like an odd choice to tell us. “Odd” might be the wrong word — I think it reveals something important about this series’ themes and interests, but potentially at the expense of the storytelling. Piotr frames his mission as finding out who his son really was, but we’re already a few steps ahead of him. I have no idea whether Kiril’s sexuality has anything to do with his death, but we know for certain that it motivated his move to Blackstone, which Piotr will almost certainly have to come to terms with in the future. We already understand that point, so I can’t imagine having much patience for whenever Piotr ends up catching up to us.
Maybe I’m misidentifying what this series is about (though the title suggests the refinery plays a bigger role than it does in this issue), but I suspect the contents of this first issue might have been better revealed in flashbacks sprinkled throughout the first arc, and that a stronger opening might have been an aged Piotr arriving on Blackstone with no luggage and a mysterious mission. This would have afforded Orlando and Brown the opportunity to reveal the same information through action, as Piotr could have begun his investigation in earnest, demonstrating what he thinks and feels about his son through the questions he asks, and showing us his mercenary training in action on that mission, rather than flashing back to some nondescript hit he did fifteen years and two days ago. As is, this issue feels like it starts way too early, functioning more of a prologue than an actual first chapter.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
I also think its super weird/confusing that Kiril’s mother and female lover have the same name. We see Kiril headed to the internet cafe with his mother, Valentina, then cut to fourteen years later, where he’s in bed with a woman named Valentina. The only clue that the man we see in the latter scene is the same person in his name, so I can’t help but grasp on to “Valentina” as equally meaningful. We only see either Valentina character in a wide shot, so there’s not enough detail in their faces to immediately recognize them as different. It would be so much easier and less confusing to just give those characters different names.
I do want to read issue 2. Part of it is I trust the writer, part of it is I did find this interesting even if I found it (as you did) as a prologue 0 issue type story.
In trying to write about this comic, I did find myself getting this story and Dead Hand 1 confused in my head.
Halfway through – did you think the father was going to be the main character? I guess he was the badass at the start, but I thought this was going to be about his son finding himself, not about the father finding out about the son. Which I guess may not happen, there’s only 5 issues left of this.
I did find rereading this helped me put more of it together. I’m excited about issue 2.