Time travel, arch enemies, and the slickest art in comics combine in A Vicious Circle #1 today. Featuring creators Mattson Tomlin (Project Power) and Lee Bermejo (Batman: Damned), the prestige format three-issue series is available in comic shops, with a cover that suggests dinosaurs and masked men are coming together for a battle of the ages.
A Vicious Circle #1 opens with a single light in the darkness. We pull in closer to see an orb, maybe a planet, and closer still to see a looking glass. Finally, we find ourselves looking at an extreme close-up of a person’s eye. That person, we find out in the next panel, is Shawn Thacker. We soon see he’s in bed with his wife, who is trying to sleep, and his son watching them. Jacked beyond belief, Shawn throws on some glasses and heads off to make his son breakfast. Just a typical day for a man and his family, right?
Cast in black and white, we soon learn there’s a man chained in his basement. Quite a shocking reveal. You start to question if Shawn is the bad guy here, but soon he’s driving off to place a bet as people rise to strike down the Jim Crow laws. Similar to the opening shots, the reader is confused as we try to decipher where we are and what is happening.
That confusion hangs over the entire issue, in a good way, as you try to piece together who Shawn is and what his relationship is with the chained-up man. It’s a time travel story, and the creative team doesn’t slow up to drop exposition on the reader, which can be exciting in a day and age when everything is overly explained.
Running 48 pages, Tomlin and Berjemo maximize the page count by telling the story at a slower, more cinematic pace. It’s not rushing to get details in simply because the page count is 20 pages like a conventional comic book. By the end of the issue, you understand the rules of how time travel works in the story, thanks to an electric montage that kicks off on page 41 that lasts eight pages. There are rules to this time travel stuff, but once you realize how it works, you’ll be dying to know more about Shawn and the masked man.
There’s a mythical quality to this book that makes it feel larger than life, even though it features a good guy and a bad guy. Or is the good guy actually bad? There are tropes here we’ve seen many times over, but that is the nature of a story featuring two foils fighting one another.
The art in this comic is stupendous, with Bermejo’s hyper-realistic color and detail present at the very start but washed in black and white. This gives the opening the feel of an old movie – likely the effect they are going for – but art and even art style changes throughout the book. There are clues about where you are in time, thanks to clothing or setting. Still, Bermejo mixes it up further with a watercolor feel during the Civil War or a more traditional comic look during what looks like the characters dropping in on Bettie Page. Bermejo excels at surprising and blowing you away with this issue, and he does it in various ways.
Rounding out the issue is letters by Becca Carey using different word balloons for different things, like the radio or the grumbling of the masked man. I particularly liked the use of a stylized first letter in the first caption of each page that features captions. It gives the captions a storybook or novel style that adds some weight to the story. It’s as if the captions are being told to use in a history book or autobiography of great importance.
People use the word awesome too much these days, but make no mistake, A Vicious Circle is an awesome first issue. From the visuals to its ability to entertain and keep up your interest while keeping you in the dark, A Vicious Circle is a comic you can’t put down. A Vicious Circle plays off how we think about time travel while using an arch rivalry that connects in exciting ways.
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