The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 69 | “Spontaneous” hardcover reviewed

Leaving Proof 69 | “Spontaneous” hardcover reviewed
Published on Friday, February 3, 2012 by
  • (Oni Press, 2012; 142 pages, collects Spontaneous #1–5 originally published in single magazine form)
  • Written by: Joe Harris
  • Illustrated by: Brett Weldele
  • Lettered by: Douglas E. Sherwood
  • Design by: Keith Wood
  • List Price: $24.99 (US)
  • Full Disclosure: This is a review of a digital copy of the book provided by the publisher

From the Back Cover: Phenomenon, conspiracy or delusion? “Kelvin” Melvin Reyes was only three years old when Spontaneous Human Combustion took his father from him. He’s since devoted his life to exploring the mystery behind the phenomenon, searching for a pattern and predictors that he might save others from that same fiery fate. But the closer he gets to his goal, the further things lead down a well of secrets, horrors and terrible truths. Is SHC real? And, if so, can it be stopped? 

What Worked: Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) is one of those topics that inevitably raises my hackles, even when tackled in something that’s ostensibly being served up as fantastical fiction. Part of it, I suspect, is my skeptic tendencies getting in the way of my ability to suspend disbelief in the face of pseudoscientific and superstitious phenomena being incorporated in speculative fiction or science-fiction works.

Harris, to his credit, keeps the proceedings going along at such a brisk and entertaining pace that I found myself setting aside any and all reservations about the subject matter of SHC and just enjoying the ride. He throws a couple of curveballs in the plot to keep readers on edge but resists the urge to inject gratuitously complicated plot twists. This is fun (and occasionally funny) stuff that manages to be straightforward without being tedious or boring.

Weldele’s art is a revelation to me. I’m unfamiliar with his prior work but now that I’ve seen what he’s capable of, I’ll be on the look out for more of his material. He employs an aesthetic that recalls ink washes and muted watercolours although given working trends these days it’s probably the result of a digital process. Regardless, there’s no arguing with the results: This is a good looking book. He is also a sufficiently competent visual storyteller, and with the exception of a few awkward panel transitions here and there, the action is very easy to discern with page layouts that intuitively lead the eye to the right spots.

What Didn’t: Harris telegraphs a major plot twist early on in the book, not explicitly mind you (and especially not deliberately), but it’s something an experienced reader or film-goer will probably pick up on and suspect long before it is confirmed in the story, robbing it of some of the momentum that should have been generated by a feeling of suspense. Still, it’s hard to fault Harris for meeting the reader’s plot expectations.

The supporting character of Emily Durshmiller—a composite of Raoul Duke and the manic pixie dream girl stock character—can be a tad grating at times, although she does become slightly more realized as the story proceeds.

The book is pretty barebones for a $20+ hardcover, at least compared to what we usually get from other publishers as far as bonus material is concerned in this price range. No creator interviews or even a perfunctory attempt at concept sketch galleries. Obviously, nobody buys these books for the bonus features, but something more than creator bios would probably help reduce the sting of the $24.99 price tag.

The VerdictA well-executed book on all fronts, although given the hardcover pricing and subject matter, I imagine it will have some problems finding a readership in the crowded trades and graphic novel market. Don’t let that stop you from checking it out, though, particularly if you can find it discounted. Recommended.



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