When Finger Guns #1 was first announced, I was probably more excited than I had ever been for a comic book. The premise alone was a perfect and lighthearted way of exploring emotional intelligence in youth, which is a theme that always hooks me in. Needless to say, I had some pretty high expectations. In some ways, Finger Guns #1 far exceed them; in others, it was a bit of a let down. Just like the emotional roller coaster of the the issue itself, its impact left me conflicted.
In terms of setting a foundation, Finger Guns #1 is second to none. The first page is absolutely brilliant when it comes to establishing theme, setting, character, and tone. Its five simple panels laid out in tiers of 1:3:1 that revolve around a center panel of a young boy aiming his finger gun at his teacher with no effect, while the teacher gives him a quizzical look and says, “You know that’s not going to change anything.” The page both starts and ends with the same kid looking bored and dejected but contains a whole world of excitement in the middle, and the entire creative team is responsible for this coming together.
From a writing and lettering perspective, the use of silence is particularly effective. This is class after all, and no one should talk except the teacher, and once Wes gets shut down, you can feel that dejection and boredom. This page also cements artist Val Halvorson and colorist Rebecca Nalty as the perfect contributors for this book. Together, their style is reminiscent of Stephen Byrne in its relatively simple, animated style on the surface sprinkled with a lot of detail as you dive a little deeper. Nalty’s colors have an almost grainy texture to them that lets you know the book is for adults. It suggests that the book is reflecting on youth rather than depicting it in the here and now.
Additionally, Nalty adds a lot of emphasis to important panels by dropping out the background in favor of a bright solid color. On the first page, that bright red background behind Wes aiming the finger gun is a jolt to the reader to get them excited before revealing that it’s a false alarm. All of this craft is established on page one and only continues throughout the rest of the issue.
Justin Richards and Val Halvorson definitely lean towards the more visual side of comic book storytelling, so dialogue feels very light, and there’s no narration. Nothing is said that doesn’t need to be, and it’s a very freeing read. Before Wes even says his first word in the book, he’s already built of the excitement from aiming a finger gun at his teacher, was let down by his teachers retort, got teased for not being invited to a part he probably didn’t even know existed, zoned out while thinking of that party and why he didn’t get invited, and then felt the embarrassment of bumping into a random girl by accident. That is a lot of emotional nuance to portray in a character that hasn’t said a word yet, but Halvorson and Nalty handle it perfectly.
We don’t even learn Wes’s name until page 15, but by then it feels like we know all we need to about the character. He’s sort of a loner, he’s probably partially responsible for that. One one hand, he’s always wearing a pair of thick headphones. From his early interactions and few apparent friends, it’s easy to recognize that this is probably a reactionary measure to tune out a world that doesn’t want him. His dad is always working late and his mom doesn’t seem to be in the picture, so he doesn’t even seem to get support from his family, and even a stray dog runs away from him. He has to make his own entertainment, so when Wes’s finger gun activates, he gets to have a field day.
For the next few pages, Halvorson and Nalty use various grid layouts to portray a glorious montage of finger gun carnage. Imagine your favorite John Wick scene, but instead of real gunshots and explosions, they’re emotional ones. We see irritation, frustration, confusion, and ignorance all turn into rage. It’s all of the fun and action with none of the consequences, at least on Wes’s end. He seems to be having just as much fun as we are until Sadie shows up to rain on his parade.
And what an entrance she makes with a shot of “calm” out of nowhere only to appear on top of a car towering over Wes. It’s another perfect panel and layout from Halvorson and Nalty with brilliant dialogue from writer Justin Richards. This creative team’s best attribute is their ability to portray multiple, nuanced emotions in a single scene. When Sadie appears in this scene and the heart-to-heart after, she is feeling multiple, very complex emotions, and they all come through clearly with dialogue alone. You understand that Sadie is excited she has someone to talk to about these powers, frustrated at how Wes is using them, and amazed that the second barrel causes rage while the one she’s been using causes calm. At the same time, Wes is also excited to have someone to talk to, bewildered at where this girl came from, and kind of regretful at how reckless he was with his powers. All of this comes through in fewer than 20 panels.
The layouts, expressions, and colors, are enough to put on a masterclass in visual storytelling. Taylor Esposito’s lettering is great as well. His SFX add touch of levity to some very serious scenes. Overall, this book has a very Wonder Twins feel, in that you think it may be silly and fun, but gets a lot more real than you were expecting very quickly. In general, Russell uses his premise to extract commentary from his stories, while Richards seems to use his to extract emotional moments, but both are effective uses of this youthful, innocent-looking storytelling style.
The entire chapter takes you back to high school. Sometimes people say what they’re thinking, but other times they don’t. Everyone always seems to have just a little more going on than they say they do. No one is ever just “fine.” There are equal amounts of vulnerability and ridiculousness, and the creative team always knows when to ramp things up. When Sadie and Wes meet, things get a bit more honest and heartfelt, but when they part ways for the night, that’s when things really ramp up. Wes goes back to an empty home that’s always too calm because no one’s ever there. Sadie goes back to a home that’s never calm because of her dad’s uncontrollable anger. Uncontrollable until now, that is.
Control is the real theme of this issue. In many ways, the initial premise of the book appears to be a bit misleading, which was a bit of a disappointment. Sadie and Wes don’t really have the power to control people’s emotions, rather they can control their temper. If anything, they can control anger and calm, but not even that well. There’s nothing to indicate that either of them have any control over how angry or how calm their finger guns make other people. For Wes, everything is out of his control and he’s angry. He doesn’t have any friends even though he’s not a bad guy. He can’t control his dad being home or the loneliness he feels. When Wes learns that he can make others experience that same sensation of losing control, it’s a ton of fun. Sadie has to deal with her father losing control all of the time, so when she see’s others lose control, she can bring them back down to Earth.
The premise of Finger Guns makes it sounds like these two characters have a precise manipulation of emotions, but that isn’t the case. Instead, they can both influence the control others have over their own emotions, which is a bit different, and as Sadie said, eventually, everything reverts back to normal. Repetitive emotional behavior is usually the result of deep-rooted problems, so Sadie can never make her dad calm down for good without forcing him to get help and confront the issue. Emotional intelligence and nuance is explored — not necessarily through the book’s mechanic itself, but rather through the visual storytelling involved when using it. Despite the slight diversion from expectations, Finger Guns #1 is an absolute delight that everyone should read and learn from.
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