Thursday, July 28, 2011

Red Skull: Incarnate #1

Cover by David Aja
Red Skull: Incarnate #1
Writer: Greg Pak
Penciller: Mirko Colak
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: VS’s Clayton Cowles

After spending so much time focusing on the art and the action of the comic books I’ve been reading, I’ve lost sight of what originally drew me to this medium: strong characterization and great story-telling. After drowning in so much mediocrity lately, I’m so happy I picked up Red Skull: Incarnate #1 and was reminded of how much I can love a comic book.

To be honest, it was merely the cover of this issue that drew me to Red Skull: Incarnate #1. Like other snobby people, I have a weakness for anything retro-looking and I fell in love with David Aja’s cover art at first glance. I knew immediately what the feel of the comic was going to be and I knew it would appeal to my love of history and politics. I had no real agenda with reading this comic: all I know about Red Skull is that he’s a Nazi and he has a red head. That’s it. Oh, and Hugo Weaving plays him in the new Captain America movie which I still have not seen!

So I had no real previous interest in this character or his backstory when I picked up this issue. I really think that was for the best, however, as this story arc focuses entirely on the origin of Red Skull/Johann Schmidt, beginning with this issue which focuses on his painful childhood in a home for wayward boys in Munich in 1923. There was very little action, at least in the traditional comic book sense, in this issue but it was a very violent and disturbing read nonetheless.

Pak was not adverse to delve into the experiences and mind of a damaged and abused 9-year-old boy and the warped political and cultural feelings that were present in post-World War I Germany that allowed for Nazism to grow. While Pak certainly did not seem to be excusing Schmidt for his later actions, he definitely made what could be a very gimmicky villain dynamic and intriguing. I did not like Schmidt necessarily, but I did care about him and wanted to see what was going to happen to him. I also found myself hoping that he would demonstrate kindness or compassion but still, he’s a Nazi and a comic book one at that. Pak would give the reader these little moments where Schmidt would begin to do the right thing and then suddenly everything would go horribly wrong. What I liked the most about these moments was that they were never completely Schmidt’s fault; rather, these were crossroads moments where Schmidt had a chance to react in a positive or a negative way and of course, he always chose the negative. Therefore, this a comic that was really about choice and how the sum of our choices defines us. It was very deep.

I will admit, however, that Schmidt’s backstory did remind me a bit of Tom Riddle’s as I read the issue, but then again, what is Tom Riddle but a wizard Nazi? It seems all systematically violent men share the same basic history.

The art by Colak and Wilson was very strong and really illustrated the paranoid and bitter mood of the times and of the 9-year-old-boy (figuratively speaking, that is). Wilson’s use of monochromatic colors, which can be seen as an easy way out in a dark and miserable comic, actually emphasized the sense of history to this comic. It was not unlike looking at faded photographs of the time period. Colak’s illustrations, which focused more on the minute details and the facial expressions of characters, were clean and strong. It’s been a very long time since I so enjoyed the art of a comic book.

I would definitely recommend picking up Red Skull: Incarnate #1, even if you have no background with the character or Captain America. It was definitely a strong piece and I hope the rest of the series doesn’t disappoint. Based on Pak’s thoughtful and enthusiastic afterword, however, I have very high hopes.

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