“Wolverton, Thief of Impossible Objects” #2 continues our impeccably tailored gentleman thief’s adventure with a mysterious heist-within-a-heist, a romantic rival, a secret society and a little bit of magical mayhem.
Story: Michael Stark & Terrell T. Garrett
Art: Jackie Lewis
Colors: Ellen Belmont
Cover: Josh George
Publisher: Burnt Biscuit Books
“Wolverton, Thief of Impossible Objects” #2 is a delightful homage to pulp narratives of old. There’s a lot at play here – the swashbuckling, the narration, the colors and even the panels themselves demonstrate a deep love of Gold and Silver Age comics, as well as a swath of media from comics to other serialized media. Short stories, radio and television serials, you name it.
However, the big question is: is it successful? Largely, yes.
Pastiche is hard. Homage is hard. “Wolverton” starts from a joyous place, which is the best place to begin. There’s no deconstruction or skewering going on in this book. “Wolverton” sets out to tell an exciting, zany adventure story about a suave thief who’s landed himself knee-deep in mystery, and it achieves that aim very well. It also sets out to deepen the intrigue by smashing together a lot of pulp tropes, and it succeeds in that regard. There might be one too many things going on on the page, however – between the opera diva, the other Black Cat, Wolverton, the Inspector, Dorian Gray and all those hapless constables, it’s easy to get a little lost in some of the action. Stark & Garrett are at their most successful mixing in a few wordless panels and dialing back some of the action when there’s a lot of dialogue to contend with.
The biggest problem with this book is its first page. It’s a hard sell from a design standpoint on a few fronts. One, the stylized color palette that works so well in other areas of the book is overwhelming with so many bodies on the page. Two, there aren’t too many clear action lines like there are later on to help us understand that Wolverton’s actually bouncing around the scene. At first glance it seems like there might be a few thieves involved, and although it’s clear after a moment, that initial dislocation is powerful. Three, though each instance of it is executed well, there are three fonts to contend with on the page, and with all the physical action this adds to the overwhelm. Each element here is either executed well, as in the lettering, or used to great effect elsewhere, but a first page like this either needs to nail crisp, compelling and clear action or lure us in some other way. As it stands, there’s too much chaos here.
That said, there’s a lot to delight in “Wolverton,” not the least of which is Lewis’s art. That same first page makes great use of cartooning in the various faces that’re turned toward the reader, and Lewis does a great job of dialing down detail in the background characters without rendering them too clumsy or unrealistic. We’ve got a range, from the dot-eyed, mustachioed constable at the left edge of the white spotlight to the intricately irritated policeman who’s dropping his gun in the foreground, and the range of detail present on this one page is cohesive. That same attention to detail is present throughout the issue, be it the joy on Wolverton’s face before he evades his pursuers or the subtle anime-style chagrin of the Inspector as he realizes he can’t find the man. Stark and Garrett give Lewis a lot of background bodies to handle, but that crowding lends itself to the general chaos that seems to follow Wolverton wherever he goes and works well for the book’s comedic edge. Lewis also makes good use of multiple small panels to highlight details and proves adept with moment-to-moment and subject-to-subject action in equal measure.
Belmont’s work in this book is special because it’s very clearly an homage to that delightful 4-color print bleed. It can add to the chaos at times, but this effect plus the dot texturing make Wolverton feel like it’s in step with the work to which it’s paying tribute. Belmont pays special attention to how the palette works across pages as well, often by tweaking it a little to fit specific scenes. This adds a pleasant and subtle visual continuity to mellow some of Lewis’s more dynamic sequences. The lit scenes are full of warm oranges and reds and the nighttime capers are purple, blue and that delightful lamplight yellow that plays so well against Wolverton’s costumed form. Belmont uses green sparingly as an accent, and in one case as a effective pop on a later page.
As Belmont works with pastiche, so does HdE, and with similar success. The font chosen for the narration is a little bigger than its classic counterparts and, thankfully, easier to read. The sound effects are ingenious, including the spectacular burst balloon on the first page despite its tendency to overwhelm, and often more subtle than they could be. And, finally, the dialogue font is classically blocky and italicized just a touch, which helps us zoom through the frenetic story even faster. Everything’s clear and done in a considered style that suits “Wolverton” very well.
Overall, “Wolverton” dazzles a bit like the stars you might see after you’ve been decked in a fight between … well, cops and robbers. There’s too much on the page at times, but it’s all weird and imaginative and, most importantly, fun. Stark, Garrett, Lewis, Belmont and HdE are putting together a good story with what looks like seamless work between the team, and that’s an accomplishment worth nothing.
What’s next for Jack Wolverton, with a magician, police inspector and who knows what else on his tail? We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m certainly down for the ride.
The Verdict: 8.0/10 – “Wolverton, Thief of Impossible Objects” #2 flirts with confusion at times but nails its retro vibe with compelling storytelling and a crisp visual package.