Art by Igor Kordey, Milton, Felipe Sobreiro, Carla Speed McNeil, Richard Pace, Dan McDaid, Mack Chatter, Colleen Doran, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alice Duke, Alem Curin, Jesse Hamm, James Smith, and RM Guéra
In 2013, Dark Horse published Smoke and Ashes in one volume, a nicely designed and chunky hunk of comics that has given me a lot of pleasure this week. The two stories, both written by Alex De Campi, were separated by about seven years in their publication, with the second being the sequel to the first.
I decided it would be best to discuss each story separately, and to take a bit of a break between reading the two stories.
I'd meant to pick this story up a number of times over the years, but I never saw more than the first issue, and didn't want to get swept up in a story I wouldn't be able to finish. I'm glad I waited, as this was a very satisfying reading experience.
The story is set in a slightly into the future London (which, coincidentally, is more or less now, but would have been the future when De Campi wrote the story). England is just about completely broke, and the IMF is poised to put their own measures in place to fix things. A man named Lauderdale, who has the ear of the buffoonish Prime Minister, has a plan to fix things, and to profit for himself in the process.
His plot involves the kidnapping of the President of OPEC by an unwitting group of militant overweight people who want to use him as a bargaining chip in their quest for free plastic surgery in Argentina. While the President is out of pocket, the plan is for OPEC to place England under a fuel embargo, which the government will be able to use to make a fortune on the futures market.
There are a couple of people who might be able to stop Lauderdale's plan, so he has them assassinated by a pair of freelancers who work for the government. What he doesn't know is that one of his two targets is a close friend to Rupert Cain, the albino assassin he sent after the other target. When Cain figures out what's happened, he makes it his business to avenge his friend. Along the way, a journalist, Katie Shah, ends up working with him, at great personal expense.
The story is complicated, and I haven't mentioned the inclusion of a reporter who is covering the whole thing, the shadowy cabal that has been running England since the Second World War, nor the complicated relationship between Cain and his friend's daughter. De Campi really packs a lot into the hundred and sixty pages that make up this story.
Things never feel complicated though, and Igor Kordey does a great job of helping keep things straight. I've been a big fan of Kordey's work for a long time now (if all you've ever seen of his stuff is his New X-Men, you need to look at the rest of his body of work), so I really liked seeing what he did here. Some of the action sequences, like the one where a group of killers try to take Cain out at a train station from the opposite platform, are incredibly impressive.
Ashes is a very different beast than Smoke. There was some sort of controversy about it involving Kickstarter and a falling out with the first artist De Campi worked with, but I don't remember what that was all about, and don't really see it as relevant to discussing the book.
It opens a few years after the events of Smoke. London is not in great shape, but Katie Shah is even worse off. After her involvement in the previous story, she's been effectively blacklisted in the field of journalism, and she's taken to drinking and sleeping with awful men.
In America, the body of No Face, the cyborg assassin from Smoke, is inadvertently given access to the Internet, and he transfers his consciousness just about everywhere. All No Face wants is to get back at Rupert Cain, and when Katie calls him on a cellphone, Cain is back on the grid.
In surveillance-mad London, there is really nowhere to hide, so Cain and Shah go on the run, leaning on an old military connection of Cain's for help. As the story progresses, we learn that Cain had a connection to No Face from one of his first missions. We also learn, once again, that the people in charge of the world are pretty terrible.
This story felt less focused than Smoke, as De Campi develops characters in minor roles, like the pregnant widow of the first soldier killed by No Face. She also builds up some interesting ideas, such as stem cell-grown pork farms that don't have any animals, which are tangential to the story at best.
This story was drawn by a very large number of talented artists. It was cool to see an up-and-comer like Dan McDaid working alongside artists like RM Guera, Colleen Doran, Bill Sienkiewicz, and the fantastic Carla Speed McNeil (who has a series with De Campi coming at Image). The transitions between artists could be jarring at times, but overall, this is a lovely book.
De Campi has not written a lot, but hers is a name that I'm seeing more and more often, from her upcoming Image work to her Grindhouse series at Dark Horse. She's definitely a very talented writer, and I'm glad I've finally gotten around to reading her seminal work.