I’ve been lucky enough to review three of Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips, and Ed Brubaker‘s previous four Reckless graphic novels. They’re my favorite comics currently being published. I’ve been lucky enough to write a lot about Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker’s long-running collaboration and the work it has produced. They’re my favorite creative team in comics. Now here I am, writing about Follow Me Down, the fifth volume of Reckless. The goal, then, is to make sure that I’m writing more than just a regurgitation of how much I love this work and how thrilling it is to see this team continuing to thrive.
Fortunately, this is Reckless—there’s always exciting craft and storytelling to write about.
Follow Me Down‘s coloring is marvelously flexible. Jacob Phillips uses it to capture both sensation and space. Consider these two panels:
While Reckless and Timbo retain the lighting of the space they’re occupying within the book itself (a sleazy fence’s electronic shop), the background conveys sensation by shifting to blocks of color representing feelings—namely the shock and pain poor Timbo experiences when going up against the ever-pragmatic-and-ruthless Reckless. It also highlights Sean Phillips’ clean, clear action by drawing the reader’s eye to bold red and yellow on a page otherwise dominated by blues, greens, and grays and creating a space wherein the action is the core object of attention.
As for space, consider the page below:
I wrote a bit about the way Phillips used color to shape space in my review of The Ghost in You, the previous volume of Reckless. Follow Me Down sees the trend continue, albeit with very different spaces. Where The Ghost in You mostly took place in a corner-and-secret-filled Hollywood mansion, Follow Me Down opts for locations that are both more and less open. Rachel, the book’s co-lead, is out for revenge on a crew who’ve made the road their kingdom. Thus, cars and Reckless’ surf van become stifling and isolating through heavy uses of black space, while the light greens of suburbia and the city and the tans of the desert stretch out far—rendering Reckless and Rachel as both striking and lonely amidst the vastness.
Sean Phillips’ work in Follow Me Down is, for me, defined by body language—and by a piece of decades-later character design in the book’s last third which is best left read for yourself. I will say that it’s a natural evolution for the character in question and so unexpected as to be surprising. That the person in question would end up there makes sense, but it’s still a heck of a thing to take in.
As for body language, Phillips takes advantage of Follow Me Down‘s putting the ordinarily closed-off Reckless in what is, for him, a deeply unusual situation—a full-blown romantic connection. While Reckless has loved before (see Reckless and Friend of the Devil), Follow Me Down marks a rare moment of genuine intimacy for its protagonist. One that Phillips emphasizes not only through panels dedicated to the way he and Rachel move around and with each other, but by contrast with action.
When Ethan Reckless gets angry, he rains fury on people and places. Follow Me Down sees him get angrier than he has since Friend of the Devil, and the result is merciless bone crunching courtesy of Phillips.
When contrasted with these moments of action, Follow Me Down‘s gentle moments stand out all the more. It’s difficult for Reckless to open up with other people, even when he cares for them—under Phillips’ pencils he’s almost always on guard physically. The one exception to this is when he’s spending time with his partner and best friend, Anna Keller. Reckless relaxes around her, and they share a deep, platonic love. Phillips works in commonalities between how Reckless carries himself with her and how he carries himself with Rachel, but Reckless The Best Friend and Reckless The Lover are marvelously distinct from one another.
As Brubaker writes in his afterword, Follow Me Down sees “Ethan following [Rachel] down that path, back towards his own darkness and feelings (which he constantly denies having).” Reckless is almost always a man apart, both by circumstance and choice. Emotional intimacy is not only rare for him, it’s something that he takes a long time to truly accept. It’s one thing to know you feel deeply for someone. It’s another thing to experience it—especially when your other major relationship is built on a different type of love altogether. Though Reckless remains sure-footed in action throughout Follow Me Down, Brubaker puts him on the back foot in his budding relationship with Rachel. It’s striking work—work that makes for a melancholy apparent climax and a last act that, as is the case with Phillips’ character work in the section, stands as one of the finest things Brubaker has written. It’s insightful, humane, and sweet without going anywhere near the dreaded land of saccharine nonsense. It reaffirms how strong Reckless‘ core is, and ably demonstrates its flexibility. It is, put simply, stupendous comicscraft.
Per Brubaker, with five volumes of Reckless completed in under two years, he and the Phillipses are stepping sideways for a new project. When they return, they’ll take Ethan Reckless into the 1990s. I’m so excited to follow them—to the future of Reckless and everywhere else they choose to go.
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