How do you solve a mystery without truth? That’s Satya Chatterjee’s job in Aftershock’s new dystopian neo-noir series Bylines In Blood. Co-written by Erica Schultz and Van Jensen and illustrated and colored by Aneke with lettering from Cardinal Rae, Bylines In Blood #1 is a riveting reflection of our current world.
Bylines in Blood #1 sets up the lush grit of an eerily close future, establishing Satya as a hardened private investigator who takes cases to pay the bills — until she learns her former editor and mentor is dead. Along with working in a world where independent newspapers are gone and the sanctity of truth is dead, Satya’s going to have trouble solving this case without getting personal.
It’s fascinating how Bylines In Blood combines the best parts of two of my all-time favorite comics, melding the dystopian, surveillance-state worries of Aftershock’s Moth & Whisper with the gritty women-led detective mystery of Abbott. As with these series, Bylines In Blood’s characters and world are fully fleshed out just in this first issue, in no small part due to Aneke’s gripping art. A page with a time-lapse of Satya’s deceased mentor that plays with time, space, and color is effortless in describing the visual and narrative core of this book.
Additionally, in an Aftershock interview Aneke said that she assigns “a color or set of colors to each character, so [she gets] in the mood of it… and gives a differentiation to the scenes and the places.” It’s no surprise then that Aneke’s creative coloring is what captured my attention the most, along with capturing the essence of the neo-noir genre.
Cardinal Rae’s lettering in Bylines In Blood #1 also reflects the density of the noir genre but Rae’s graceful tact spaces the text out enough as to not feel too heavy. Despite this, virtually every panel in the issue has some sort of text, and some of the beats and visuals could have had more space to breathe if the script didn’t require them to have text.
Regardless, the deployment of the main themes and concepts in Bylines In Blood #1 is scarily accurate as they are clearly tied to current issues like the pandemic, class divides, and political control. Its authenticity goes even further by the fact that co-writer Van Jensen is a former newspaper crime reporter who, according to a micro interview in Bylines In Blood #1, “raced around to crime scenes” and “saw a lot of blood and pain in the process.” Jensen’s experience gives truth to Satya, and also brings the present-day closer to the comic’s dystopian setting.
The contrast between the dystopian future and the present day is incredibly unsettling. A scene where Satya plays plain-old, modern-day volleyball is followed by scenes with futuristic architecture and floating eyeball cameras. But this contrast is also so pertinent to the ever-closing space between the future and now. I once saw a tweet essentially explaining how the horror of dystopia isn’t that its atrocities could happen, but that they’re already happening. Bylines In Blood sums that sentiment up perfectly.
Bylines In Blood #1 is electric neo-noir goodness that is much a murder mystery as an uncomfortable present-day truth, one that we hopefully won’t have to witness in full.
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