By Brendan F. Hodgdon. Violence will beget more violence. Many stories have been told of men trying to right wrongs by doling out death, only to have it returned unto them in kind. But the best of those stories have always recognized that such cycles do not just include physical violence, but emotional violence as well. And Crude, the already-fantastic new series from Steve Orlando and Garry Brown, expresses this as well as any revenge story I’ve seen. Their tale of a Russian hitman named Piotr looking to avenge the death of his bisexual son Kiril in the factory town of Blackstone is nothing short of a wonder of the genre.
This type of story is, of course, not new territory for Orlando. His previous books,Virgil and Midnighter, similarly used violence as an externalization of damaged emotion, where the pain and catharsis of every gunshot and broken bone was visceral and unmistakable. This sort of tale also fits nicely into the wheelhouse of Brown, who has previously (and currently) brought humanity to tales of death and destruction (Black Road and Babyteeth). Crude is a great continuation for each of their respective bibliographies, and an ideal blend of their particular talents.
The cumulative impact of those talents is akin to a hot poker being stabbed into a block of ice. It is rage and despair, life and death, passion and bleakness, conflicting elements that still naturally fit together. It’s a messy fugue of emotions and deadly fallout carefully orchestrated by its creators. Crude is a raw, intense and unequivocally tragic new work that grabs you by the throat and demands your attention.
$3.99/Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Written by Steve Orlando.
Art by Garry Brown.
Colors by Lee Loughridge.
Letters by Thomas Mauer.
Tragically human. The art, not just Garry Brown’s pencils and inks but Lee Loughridge’s colors as well, does a lot to convey the roiling yet repressed emotions of the characters while also capturing the bleak reality of the world they inhabit. There are the subtle facial expressions and tense body language one might expect in such a story, along with a subdued color palette that further emphasizes both the melancholy of the characters and the icy grit of their surroundings.
All of this sets up the action beautifully, as this dreary and detached world is breached by sudden bursts of violence and the occasional surreal image. In Crude, we experience the full spectrum of emotions; those emotions power the story and make it all the more heartbreaking. The work of Brown and Loughridge is perfectly calibrated, making the violence — be it mental or physical — hit like an anvil to the head. It’s ideal for a project like this.
Righteous rage. The story that the art brings to life is defined, at least in this opening chapter, by the tension between Piotr and Kiril. Orlando draws us in through Kiril’s POV, establishing him as a young man filled with frustration. Be it his father’s emotional distance or the expectation that he keep his own sexuality under wraps, Kiril is beset on all sides by infuriating repression. And he (understandably) rages against all, while hoping a new life in Blackstone will provide an escape.
And then there’s Piotr himself. While his son loathes the expectation of silence, Piotr seems to have made bitter peace with it. It isn’t until Kiril’s death that the bitterness turns fully sour, and Piotr must reckon with the repercussions of his choices. It’s the sight of his dead son that ignites Piotr’s own rage, that brings to the fore every failure and frustration that he still carries with him. And it is here that Piotr and Kiril are united in their rage against the way things are. But while Kiril’s rage was one of yearning, Piotr’s is one of regret.
Can’t stop, won’t stop. With the strong emotional core of the story intact, Orlando is able to barrel through the backstory at an energetic pace. We jump from place to place and moment to moment, getting quick glimpses that collectively establish the parameters of the story. Within the first half of the issue, we see Kiril as a child with his parents, Piotr on an assignment, adult Kiril with his lovers, Piotr and Kiril discussing the latter’s plans, and Piotr and his wife arguing over Kiril’s death.
By the time the story zeroes in on Piotr and the beginning of his quest, we’ve already seen both him and Kiril from several different angles. We’ve seen Piotr the likable dad, Piotr the deadbeat dad, Piotr the killer. We’ve seen Kiril the enthusiastic child, Kiril the defiant lover, Kiril the righteous objector. The cumulative effect of these quick, staccato snapshots feels like a multifaceted exploration of the characters, which makes the tragedy that befalls them all the more devastating.
It is pretty safe to say that in terms of craft and emotion, Crude is very much the opposite of its title. This issue is an exquisitely-told chapter of what will undoubtedly be a devastating story when completed, that serves as yet another bar-raising piece of work for its creators. Crude will likely resonate with anyone who longs to be recognized for who they are, or who regrets what they’ve left unsaid. Simply put, Crude is a book for almost everyone.
9 out of 10
Brendan Hodgdon is a past winner of the Top Cow Talent Hunt with a comic currently in production at Top Cow, a partner studio of Image Comics.