By Zack Quaintance — Mining ideas for comic book stories from current events is nothing new. In fact, I’d wager a guess that a vast majority of creator-owned comics these days (as well as much of the corporate superhero fare) excavate their thematic interests from the news. This is one of the qualities I appreciate most about weekly comics—their production times/release schedules make them the storytelling medium best-suited for processing the real world via narrative. It’s a wonderful thing.
The most common route for comics to go is to take the news and steep it in genre, in horror and fantasy and science fiction. But what if the actual news is sufficiently complex and terrifying? What if an injustice has become so severe, so brutal and hard to accept, that adding vampires or aliens or a realm filled with elves would actually waterdown the impact? This is essentially what Vindication #1 posits through its embrace of total realism. Simply put, everything in this comic feels real, from the world to the plot (culled straight from the headlines) to the understated character moments. And I’m not talking real in the sense of something like The Authority or 100 Bullets or Lazarus, all of which—let’s face it—involve plot conceits that are still incredibly unlikely, even if they’re given grounded, logical treatments.
Vindication reads like a snapshot from the real world. Created by Matt Hawkins (who has made similarly-realistic comics in the past with his series Think Tank) and writer M.D. Marie, this is the first of a four-part series about a police detective who “maneuvers the blurred blue line between racism and due diligence in order to do his job.” Police discrimination against young black men is a major problem in society (and has been for some time), brought to a fever pitch in recent years via the acceleration of video technology, specifically the increased ability of citizens to take/share quick videos with mobile phones. An entrenched and polarized debate has risen around the subject (as it has around so many subjects in America 2019), with part of the country demanding accountability for blatant injustices while others denounce the denunciations, essentially telling activists and protestors to lay off the police.
Perhaps most realistically, there is no clear hero in Vindication. The central character actually appears to be a villain, though the audience doesn’t have all the info it needs yet to make a final judgement. Not quite. This hint of ambiguity makes the story feel realistic, allowing the comic to inhabit a space of cold, logical gray, like a well-made documentary. The lead character is Detective Chip Christopher, who at first blush seems prejudiced and maybe even corrupt. He pushes down a newly-exonerated young black man named Turn in the opening scene, going on to claim he was helping Turn up, which we as an audience know to be a falsehood. The detective is just convinced Turn was guilty. What we don’t know—because the comic shrewdly doesn’t show us—is whether the detective is right. We as readers are given only what the detective himself knows, really, a great choice for the narrative. Things get complicated when one of the jurors who convicted Turn is murdered in an incident that mirrors the crime of which he was originally convicted.
It’s a timely story, and writer M.D. Marie and artists Carlos Miko, Dema Jr., and Thiago Goncalves execute it well. The detailed art mirrors the realistic plotting, and the characters are well-defined yet subtle, with a script that works hard to give even bit players depth. I thought the main character’s new partner, Detective Maggie Cruz, was especially intriguing and strong, the way she approached Detective Christopher collegially but with healthy skepticism. Christopher himself is also given touches perhaps aimed at making him more sympathetic—a partner who was killed, friendly relationships with co-workers of different backgrounds, etc. I’m personally viewing Christopher as a villain at this point, but my sense is that the real threat in this story will end up being human fallibility, which is terrifying when applied to something as complex and consequential as the country’s law enforcement system.
Overall: A realistic comic that lives in ambiguity and shades of gray, Vindication #1 is a scary look at how individuals influence something as consequential as the justice system. 8.6/10
Created By: Matt Hawkins / M.D. Marie
Writer: M.D. Marie
Penciler: Carlos Miko
Inker: Dema Jr.
Colorist: Thiago Goncalves
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.