Suicide Risk is ranked high on my personal pull list, and it’s one of my favorite recommendations for non-big two titles. Unfortunately, what makes me so excited is precisely what makes this a difficult book to just jump into: each issue builds on the previous, creating a rewarding contextual web for the attentive reader, but a disappointing stand-alone for the new-comer.
To be honest, I picked up Suicide Risk because of my familiarity with author Mike Carey, not because the premise was interesting to me. His impressive resume (which includes the Sandman spin-off series Lucifer, long runs on Hellblazer and X-Men, and the Vertigo ongoing The Unwritten) should be enough to warrant a quick review. Uhh...This isn't going to be quick though. Apologies in advance.
What I love about Mike Carey’s storytelling is that he creates a sense of a world and a story larger than the page you’re reading by making connections between different story elements and issues within the series. What may appear to be a digression is usually brought full circle with enviable efficiency. While the literal plots sometimes seem unremarkable, there are always additional thematic levels, frequently encompassing issues like free will, the defining sources of virtue and morality, or the power of narrative in society. Overall, I would summarize Mike Carey as an author who is always writing on two levels. At least.
So based on this opinion of Carey’s existing work, I started reading this book. On first inspection, I found the art in the majority of the issues, provided by Elena Casagrande with Andrew Elder on colors, good but not exceptional, and certainly not distracting from the narrative. While reading, the staging and the panel layouts became slaves to the story, really supporting the pacing of the script.
After reading, I found that the grounded, relatively mundane artwork is what makes the story all the more subversive, the artwork seems straightforward so it’s a surprising contrast when the story goes someplace fanciful or unexpected. Matter-of-fact is probably a good description of what Casagrande has put together to complement Carey’s story. Most importantly, she’s getting better. In issue 7, the clairvoyant Christina is drawn with a subtlety to her expression that brought crucial emotional ambiguity to her scenes.
Issue 5 was a standalone introducing a tangential character, with art done in a compatible, but more dramatic style by Joelle Jones paired well with Emilio Lopez on colors. I hope that we continue to see visiting work from this pair on the side.
Nominally, Suicide Risk is about a California cop named Leo, combating new super villains who are buying their powers, back-alley-drug-deal-style with something called a ‘p-wand.’ Seriously? Intrigued and possibly manipulated into investigating further, Leo gets his own super powers. Yeah, not surprised. The next issues follow Leo as he tracks down a team of bad guys who hurt his partner, and learns more about how to use his super powers. Yawn.
By the end of issue 7, some villains have kidnapped Leo and coerced him into helping with a coup d’état; leaving the bad guys in control over the Yucatan in Central America. Many of the secondary characters have hints of interesting powers and backgrounds, but at this point everyone remains severely under-developed and suspiciously one dimensional. On an issue by issue, plot based assessment, this book is mediocre.
But Suicide Risk is not about the super powers; at least, it won’t be much longer. Carey was already planting the seeds of something bigger back in the first issue, when Leo’s father in law insists “Even the ones who start out good don’t stay that way. The Karma Commander. Diva. Sainted Sam. They turned villain almost overnight. Why is that?”
Along with his new super powers, Leo gets new dreams of a tattoo faced woman who worships a two-faced goddess. In these dreams, he is Requiem and his waking life is the dream. Now, when Leo runs into super powered adversaries in real life, they address him, with familiarity and reverence, as Requiem. How could they know?
Whoosh, this isn't radioactive sludge or latent mutation, these characters are having previous lives and memories restored, from where? A distant past, another planet, it’s remained somewhat ambiguous until Leo’s daughter tears a portal into another dimension with a green sun. This scene in issue 7 not only hints at the source of the invasion, but is also a startling revelation that someone has gained super powers without access to a p-wand.
Suicide Risk has room to become one of those comics where you turn the page and just drop the book, or maybe throw it across the room. If past performance is any indication, Mike Carey can deliver on this potential, no worries.