Back in the Game collects the ten Neroy Sphinx stories published intermittently in indie comic anthology FutureQuake, and bookends the collection with two new tales of the eponymous conman, thief, drifter and perpetual opportunist as he traverses the galaxy in search of personal gain.
Each tale begins with a quotation from Neroy Sphinx: Man and Myth, an in-universe text from some future year charting the life of the infamous wanderer after his exploits have seemingly grown to become legend. They suggest the story of a man who has become a patron saint of lost souls whose deeds are recounted by outcasts and renegades in awed reverence, making the juxtaposition of the quasi-mythical biographical snippets with the mundane reality of the actions to which they refer effective studies in contrast.
Sphinx leaps from one misadventure to another, sometimes surviving though luck or skill, but mostly because of a single-minded will to survive, doing anything it takes to extract himself from undesirable situations no matter who he screws over in the process. As a character he is most comparable to Hellblazer’s John Constantine; despite whatever knowledge or artefacts he might possess to him an edge over his opponents, it’s his talent at manipulating people that proves to be his greatest strength. In possession of an uncanny ability to make his enemies underestimate him, he can talk at length about an expected course of action while already plotting another, his mind working on multiple levels simultaneously like a fusion of a chess master who sees a dozen moves ahead and a magician to whom misdirection is second nature.
Often the only variable factor in Sphinx’s schemes is how long it takes his opponents to make their move, this in itself often proving to be the final piece of his own plan, and at that moment everything falls into place and what they thought was sure success comes crashing down around them. The aftermath leaves Sphinx needing only to quietly slip away in the shadows, surfacing later on some distant planet or spaceship when someone else makes an ill-advised attempt to coerce him into doing their dirty work.
Although each story is only a brief flash from Sphinx’s life, they add up to an ever-developing narrative peppered with details that tie them together. Past actions are seen to have consequences, and figures from Sphinx’s past reappear on several occasions, sometimes with different motivations and allegiances. With each tale being about half a dozen pages long, it’s a testament to the skill of Whitson’s writing that time and again he can set up a situation, establish a status quo and throw in a twist at the end to wrap things up in a sudden, unexpected but wholly believable manner. Far from becoming repetitive, the consistency of such a structure makes for compelling reading and before you know it you’ll have ploughed through the whole book and be left hungry for more.
NEROY SPHINX: BACK IN THE GAME / WRITER: DANIEL WHISTON / ARTIST: DAVE THOMSON, JOHNNY MCMONAGLE, JAMES KIRCOUGH / PUBLISHER: FUTUREQUAKE PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW