From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Comics Reviews: Razorjack

There is a good chance that you, the average comic fan tuning in to Fantasy Magazine today, don’t know who John Higgins is. If you know, congratulate yourself for your wisdom. If not, sit up straight, make sure your hair is okay, and wait for a lesson.

Higgins made one of the most important contributions to comic art in history. He was the colorist for Watchmen. It’s one thing in a massive oeuvre, but it is, at least to me, the most significant. That sickly yellow and pink that saturates each page of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s dystopia is Higgins’s masterstroke. Bright blue and red, a la Superman or Wonder Woman, make an audience comfortable and excited. But the yellows of dying lamps, the purple of twilight and the salmon-flesh-orange of winter sunshine are all designed to put people on edge.

That’s exactly what the colors do in Watchmen. Rather than declaring a brilliant four-color world where red and blue mark out the heroes, it created a world of shades. Doctor Manhattan was not quite blue enough, Nite Owl was a dusky shade of brown and the Comedian dressed in a bright yellow jumpsuit, bright and uncomfortable as his personality.

Higgins is a master of mood. And a mood piece is the best way to explain Razorjack, his solo project newly collected by ComX, which Higgins wrote, drew, inked and colored. Razorjack is horror in the Clive Barker vein, a story ranging between our world and a demonic realm where a satanic queen tears flesh and veils from angelic figures.

The story and dialogue aren’t much. Dumb kids play with supernatural forces they don’t understand. Hard-bitten cops get caught up in the nightmarish rituals that result. The nude, noseless evil queen of the etherworld attempts to break into our world. Quite honestly, I lost track of what was going on the first couple of times I read the comic, between the hard-bitten female cop and the hard-bitten male cop and the generic teenagers.

(I did like the two humorously creepy agents of chaos, similar to the evil duo in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, though the genesis of Razorjack precedes that of Neverwhere. “We shall have so much fun with her before she dies, Mister Jones.” “Indeed, Mister Kahn. I feel a tingle of anticipation I have not felt in a long time.”)

The weakness of the writing doesn’t matter so much, because Higgins’s art far outshines his writing—and makes this one hell of a creepy comic. His art is dynamic without sacrificing an admirable clarity of style, just dark enough, just detailed enough. It’s hard to really describe his art, because it never distracts from the story but never fails to make the story more vivid. A lot of the visual treats are augmented by Higgins’s coloring, in shades of red and purple that hint at viscous blood. In the nightmare-world scenes, there are some great shots, including one of a hole-ridden corpse screaming without eyes or half a mouth.

Higgins never really transcends the medium of horror, but he delivers a solidly scary tale, enough to justify the impressive visuals. This would be a good comic for the Clive Barker aficionado in your life, or somebody who digs demons and the cops that hunt them.

One other thing: I’ve never heard of Santa-Barbara-based ComX before now, and I’m impressed with the package they’ve put together. The paper is matte, not glossy, so it’s bright and vivid and easier to read without the smudges that can accumulate on glossy. The comic is nice and flexible, more so, in fact, than the awkwardly rigid covers of better-known competitor IDW. Here’s to more from them soon.

Spencer Ellsworth got his first comic book at the age of six–a tattered adaptation of the Ewoks cartoon–and has never recovered. He lives in the Seattle area and recently graduated with an M.A. in Creative Writing from Western Washington University. He has worked in wilderness survival, special education, and publishing, and he writes fiction, opinion and review columns for various online publications. He is married to fantasy artist Chrissy Ellsworth, and the proud father of Adia Ellsworth, whose artistic aspiration at the moment is to emulate Pollock on carpet instead of canvas.

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