Mike Norton and Dennis Hopeless bring you The Answer #1, from Dark Horse Comics!
"The library is closed, sir, and you – you have punctuation on your face!"
When a strange superhero busts into your workplace warning you of impending danger, you run. That's the lesson Devin Mackenzie has learned in The Answer #1. The new superhero comic by Mike Norton and Dennis Hopeless features a wild new story about a distinctive new character.
What's remarkable about The Answer #1 is how inscrutable the title character is. Despite a visage that screams to the reader, all we know about the character is that he's a violent superhero who seems to always show up whenever there's some criminal activity about, and who applies his own brand of justice that always results in massive casualties and lots of property damage. There's no origin story, no glimpse behind the mask, and no internal monologue coming from the guy (assuming it is a guy in the costume). Still, much like Devin herself, we pretty much have to trust whatever he's saying because he seems like he's probably one of the good guys. Certainly, he's better than the armed gunmen in ski masks that are shooting up a research library, anyway.
We do get to know Devin Mackenzie, though. The lead character of The Answer #1 is a brainy and charismatic librarian who enjoys a good puzzle or trivia game. When she receives a complex puzzle box for her birthday (an item she describes as "Rubik's Cube's sexy older brother"), she's on top of the world. That's when The Answer shows up, just before the bad guys. Norton and Hopeless stick with Devin for most of the page space in the issue. The story is told mostly from her point of view, and she's a character we get to know and want to root for. She has an effortless charm to her that's just easy to follow. With some clever plotting and snappy monologuing, we learn a lot about her in a short amount of time. Norton and Hopless lay out the story very smartly; they use one page to establish her intelligence (knowing all the answers on an episode of Jeopardy!), follow that with a page that establishes her relationship with her mother, and the next page contains the beauty shot of the artifact that the story of The Answer hinges upon. The puzzle box acts as a type of narrative key that opens the story up and brings the main character into the larger story (which comes crashing onto her doorstep, really). Once that's all figured out, we cut away to scenes of The Answer out there in the night doing his thing, as well as to a ballroom where a speaker delivers a type of motivational talk that espouses the role of chaos in the achievement of success in the modern world. It's a lot of high-minded flimsy philosophy that somehow connects to Devin and to The Answer. It's unclear exactly what all the different plot elements have to do with one another, but they do all come together in the issue before setting up a fun chase scene.
It's all fun stuff, and it all makes for a breezy but entertaining read. The Answer #1 relies a lot on latent expectation (even before getting to the great cliffhanger) and sets up a whole world of story possibilities in a short amount of time. Mike Norton's clean and eye-catching art style simply looks great. With his work on his webcomic Battlepug and on Image Comics' It-Girl and The Atomics (both of which are great reads as well), Norton was already a busy artist before The Answer #1, but his art doesn't suffer from the workload. He utilizes simple page layouts that work really well for this story. The action moves smoothly, and the quiet scenes that rely on internal monologue still deliver a lot of information to the readers eyeballs. The colors by Mark Englert are vivid and they establish the light mood of the comic very well. Some of the lettering comes off a little obtrusive, but there's a good amount of text that's necessary to read through, particularly in Devin's scenes. Overall, the book is as strong visually as it is narratively. Certainly, the design of The Answer is striking, if only for the fact that it moves the superhero insignia up to the face, of all places, from the chest (the usual resting spot for that particular design trope). It immediately shows you that this may not be the same old superhero story. This is an idiosyncratic vision that makes the genre feel just a little more refreshed.
There's a lot going on in The Answer #1, but all the balls are thrown up into the air in such a way that they set up a lot of things the reader is going to want to learn more of. In that way, as a first issue of a brand new concept, the issue is a pure success. It's a fun, funny, and entertaining read that promises a joyride of a comic book story in the next three issues while providing an energetic read on its own. The Answer #1 is a comic that will make a reader want to know what's going to happen next in the story.
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