COMIC REVIEW: THE GRIEVOUS JOURNEY OF ICHABOD AZRAEL (AND THE DEAD LEFT IN HIS WAKE) #1 / AUTHOR: ROB WILLIAMS / ARTIST: DOM REARDON, PETER DOHERTY / PUBLISHER: REBELLION / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 25TH
After being responsible for a few too many funerals, murderous gunfighter Ichabod is ambushed by a posse of hitmen and finally slain; soon after, he finds himself lost in purgatory and washed up by the River Styx. Ichabod is not the kind of man to just accept this, and upon discovering he somehow has the unnatural power to slay creatures of the underworld, he vows to fight his way out and return to the world of the living and the woman who loves him.
“His name is Ichabod and he was a killer.” As opening lines go, it would be hard to get more succinct than that. Although the idea of the grizzled gunslinging badass is practically an archetype in itself, in this character - combined with a Land of the Dead setting, and guns with infinite ammo that can kill anything - there are more than faint echoes of the origin story of the Saint of Killers from Garth Ennis’ Preacher; an intentional amalgamation of the attributes applied to the collective memory of every antihero from tales of the Old West. However, the seeds of Ichabod’s growth into his own distinct character are planted, even if he’s a little thinly-drawn at this stage.
The fact that not even the demons and angels Ichabod initially encounters know the source of his supernatural death-dealing means something momentous is going on, and the issue of exactly who (or indeed what) he truly is will likely be the comic’s cornerstone mystery. An unnamed narrator relates the plot as though Ichabod’s story were a campfire tale passed down the decades with the accuracy of events blurring into myth with each retelling, while aspects where details are in dispute are juxtaposed with panels conveying the truth. Although Rob Williams’ prose utilises an extensive vocabulary (or judicious use of a thesaurus), the overcomplicated sentences sometimes strain the credence of the verbal narrative. Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness does not necessarily equate to elegance.
The artwork shifts into stark black and white when Ichabod reaches the underworld wasteland, creating a desolate void appropriately empty of anything distinct or lifelike, contrasting beautifully with the endless azure sky and scorched bronze desert of the world he was torn from, especially at the points where events run parallel between the two worlds, colour appearing and vanishing from one panel to the next.
It’s an intriguing start to the story, if presented a little matter-of-factly, but as the series progresses and the story expands and deepens, the mix of western, fantasy, horror, and possibly even romance should create something unique and compelling.