No, It’s NOT SAFE to go back in the water: a “Hookjaw #1” (Review)
Writer: Si Spurrier
Art: Conan Boyle
Colours: Giulia Brusco
There is little question that this is likely the most offbeat thing that I had in my pull-list this week. And that’s ok, because, at face value, this was pretty refreshing. It’s the entire reason that I read stuff outside the big two. While this particular issue had some trouble finding its grip, I do not for a second regret having it take up one of the slots in my weekly pull.
Hookjaw #1 begins the tale of something that feels like it is going to be one part Jaws, one part Moby Dick, and one part an Archie comic. Mag is a Marine Biologist with a thing for sharks. She heads out to sea, crewed up with one of the foremost experts on shark behavior, Professor Sola (unless that’s the name of the ship; it was tough to tell), and her eclectic crew. Out on solo patrol in a small craft, Mag encounters what may be one of four sharks exhibiting pack behavior, a theory that the Professor has been unable to prove. Returning to the mother ship, she finds it boarded by Somali pirates, which is bad enough. But all hell breaks lose when a team of Navy S.E.A.Ls shows up, and arguably makes things worse. When all of the bullets are done flying, the team leads realize that two members of the team never made it onboard. Tracking for their audio and video, they find the wayward S.E.A.Ls being attacked by sharks, the audio of their screams only exceeded by the brief moments of video that finally come through. The shot revealed by the camera spiraling downwards to the sea bottom leaves the story’s characters as well as the reader with a horrific image that will not quickly be recovered from.
The art in this issue makes up most of its intrinsic value. The first thing that grabbed me after the cover, which is top notch work in its own right, were the bright crimson colors contrasted so sharply against the deep blacks of the interior splash page. Giulia Brusco is now the colorist that I’d like to see do everything. Her skins on top of Boyle’s art gave me a very sharp sense of being outside and at sea, and I’ve actually spent a lot of time at sea. As great as her colors are in daylight, her night scenes are even more amazing. The texture work of the water’s surface under different conditions of turbulence is just exquisite. I give Boyle plenty of props for his work, especially in the quirky expressions of the S.E.A.L. team leader. But it’s the colors that really sold it for me in this issue.
Story is a bit tougher gristle to chew. And the main problem is that I just could not get a grip on the tone of the story. Is this camp? It definitely was at some points. At various junctions in the story, it felt kind of like SCREAM, with veritably horrific things going on, but this macabre humor underpinning the laughing-at-itself kind of thematic undertone. But there are other times it feels deathly serious, but like monster movie serious; like Carpenter’s The Thing. And other times it is just straight-up Peter Benchley-type horror, which is a bit more man against nature tragedy, where no one is inherently the bad guy. The dialogue is at times really smart, even when it comes at you through the trash-mouth sailor-speak of Professor Sola, with her interjections of real science perspective into the torrent. Then there is the campy dialog between Jasper, who has the hots for Mag, and the main protagonist. But when the S.E.A.L. team shows up, the dialog goes totally Kingsmen in its ridiculousness. With the somewhat muddled theme, it was very hard to know what to expect, and, more importantly, how to feel about the credibility of the threat of Hookjaw. It’s a thin line between the generation of real fear, and simply gratuitous violence and killing that desensitizes the reader to any feeling of true jeopardy. Without that feeling, it becomes much less of a horror comic. And if it’s not that, then what the heck is it?
I feel like if Spurrier can just lock down the tone on this, it will be a much more interesting series. I am ok with a mix of tones to a piece of work, but I feel like there needs to be at most one primary and one secondary. It feels like there are three or four tones here, all competing for prominence. I myself would prefer a mostly horror-driven story, with a salting of something else that keeps it from being a direct mime of a Peter Benchley tale. But whatever it is going to be, I just want the story tightened up and focused a bit more tonally. As for the art, don’t change a thing. Doyle and Brusco have got it on lock, and there’s very little reason to shake that up. Overall, this is a good start, and 80% of the formula that an issue #1 needs to achieve to get readers interested in staying on board. Hopefully the team will capture the other 20% in Hookjaw #2.