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'Precious Metal' #2 effortlessly pulls us in with life-affirming wonder and pointed emotions

Comic Books

‘Precious Metal’ #2 effortlessly pulls us in with life-affirming wonder and pointed emotions

You can’t escape the power of ‘Precious Metal.’

When I interviewed him back in June, Darcy Van Poelgeest made a great point about his Precious Metal collaborator Ian Bertram. Specifically, he mentioned that he could almost take a step back and let Bertram’s art do all the heavy lifting. (It’s an idea reinforced by Bertram being credited first in the Precious Metal credits page.)

None of that means that Van Poelgeest isn’t putting in some damn fine work on his end. It’s his storytelling and world-building, not to mention deeply resonant narration, that made Precious Metal #1 so effective. He very much laid the groundwork for the kind of tone and scope of this “anti-prequel” as Max Weaver explores his murky past and saves a young child. Van Poelgeest cares deeply for Precious Metal (and the excellent Little Bird), and it’s his guiding hand that gives shape to the vast and rich universe.

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But it’s issue #2 of Precious Metal where we truly see that this is Bertram’s world and we’re all just living in it.

And how could you not let an artist the caliber of Bertram go totally hog wild? Issue #1 was a solid introduction to this world, and how it moved from the more fantastical and joyous feel of Little Bird into the realm of more organic cyberpunk. And Bertram further extends and adds on to this section of the universe, creating what’s basically like Apocalypse Now meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Which is to say, big glowing fields of abstract beauty leading into and/or surrounding these harsh, brutalist churches. Or, techno-organic structures that seem to embrace and buck either sense for maximum intensity and unease.

It’s a place of genuine, unkempt life and precise control, and these ideas swirl together in varying degrees to defy physics and foster both robust intimacy and these feelings of discomfort and disconnect. Precious Metal‘s world is altogether more grounded and never any less bizarre and overwhelming, and through that we begin to feel how this is very much its own story and its own creation with novel ideas and interests.

And among those core interests are memory. Because no matter how Bertram (alongside colorist Matt Hollingsworth) might twist or turn the landscape into this Brazil-ian menagerie of whimsy and psychedelic madness, there’s always a point. Van Poelgeest said this story is very much about Max seeking to understand where he came from and how that informs who he is (and maybe even who he’ll become circa Little Bird). And so Bertram and Hollingsworth use the twisting geography of a futuristic bathroom, or the impossible structures of some geometric church structure, to play with our senses and our sense of gravity. To get us feeling not only awestruck but unsure about what’s up, what’s down, what’s real and what’s not, to mimic the journey of Max himself.

Precious Metal

Main cover by Ian Bertram. Courtesy of Image Comics.

There’s this prevailing sense that past and present, up and down, even colors and shapes here, can shift at a moment’s notice, and we’re left to think about how unnerving and maddening it would be to live in that kind of world. But that’s exactly where Max is, and we’re engaging with him in a way that’s primal and elemental through the scope and shape of this world. I feel connected to Max even as he remains a mystery to me, and we’re meant to follow him in a world we know is filled with power and significance even as we can’t fully make heads or tails of it all. In that way, the art is not only facilitating so much of the narrative, but it’s doing so in a way that feels really mysterious and playful, trying to bring us in with its wonder but keeping us at arms reach to maximize our experience.

At the same time, the art is smart enough to leave what I’d call pockets of humanity. These instances where all the massive landscapes and brain-smashing “gimmicks” give way to some quite moment between Max and Selina or Max and Naomi (to whom we discover he has forged a rather intimate connection). And these moments are, on the one hand, a nice bit of respite from all the massive feats that Precious Metal is capable of, and an opportunity for us to align our understanding and insights before things go topsy turvy or overwhelmingly cool once again. But they’re also a time for Van Poelgeest’s contributions to really shine.

I’d mentioned the narration here (as supported yet again by more great work from letteter Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou). And, to some extent, that’s only a small part of the work that Van Poelgeest does here to extend and augment the work of the gorgeous visuals. It’s those spaces that the art team create/foster where Van Poelgeest makes himself known in a way — as if his hand on our shoulder grows a little more firm. In that function, he gives us something a little more stable to dote on, and to wrap our heads around the story’s big ideas and concepts in a more deliberate and personal manner. Similarly, he helps add texture and context to, say, the idea of memories; specifically, he’s layered this beautiful but still-solidifying dynamic between Max and Naomi that drives home the stakes of Max’s journey, what he’s really fighting for, and even the things working against him.

Precious Metal

Variant cover by Peach Momoko. Courtesy of Image Comics.

It’s a translation of the art in a very direct manner, and without impacting the visuals or making things feel heavy-handed, Van Poelgeest turns the gravity up just enough to help all these pondering and theoretical notions take a more definitive structure as well as to help suss out where things are going. These quiet moments really felt like the world snapped into place and we got to see what all of this beauty and intensity does to a person, and in that way, we’re connected even more with the characters.

We’re not just there in the magic of some huge moment of discovery, but also the stark and often harsh moments afterward where we need to process it all and really decide how we’re going to respond (and not just run crying and screaming into the dark). There’s some great instances around this core idea with Selina, and she’s already become this really compelling counterweight to Max — I hope she continues to be a presence to push him into really exploring some wonderful but also cutting truths, and to face his larger issues (beyond a missing memory).

I get that what I’ve described in this issue of Precious Metal is sort of what all good comics do: a solid storyline connected with great visuals, and those collaborate and do their own thing in some glorious, eternally fluidic arc. But it goes a little deeper in this book — Precious Metal does this in a way that feels both more aligned and altogether more distinct. Like, yes we get one book, but we also get two more. They align when they have to but in ways that foster some important level of tension. And they may differ or contrast on purpose, but it’s always in the name of opening up spaces for context and new ideas to flood in.

You can’t deny the results, and Precious Metal continues to be a powerful book for this feat. I simply can’t wait to see how else the creators move and spin to create an ever more beguiling story.

'Precious Metal' #2 effortlessly pulls us in with life-affirming wonder and pointed emotions
‘Precious Metal’ #2 effortlessly pulls us in with life-affirming wonder and pointed emotions
Precious Metal #2
The second issue grows the world, people, lore, and conceptual gold into something that'll grab you by the whole of your body.
Reader Rating1 Votes
It's hard to define the kind of profound magic that the art team weave in extending this world.
The story structure here is only meant to guide us without overwhelming the experience of walking through this book.
Explores memory, emotional disconnect, and the nuance of faith with sharpness and vigor.
Don't expect an easy time as 'Precious Metal' demands so much energy, time, and curiosity from its readers.
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