In Image Comics‘ music and fantasy inspired Murder Falcon, the creators have managed to recreate the experience of listening to heavy metal music in a comic book format. They have woven the tropes of the music’s storytelling with outlandish visuals to produce an engrossing experience that has to be read to be believed.
The pacing and rhythm of a great rock album is present within the pages of this comic and there is even a soundtrack to complete the experience, Brooticus.bandcamp.com
Prepare to be surprised, prepare to shocked, but most of all, prepare to Shred!
The first thing any newly reformed band has to do is play a reunion gig. Unfortunately for Jake and Brooticus, their gig will be one of the hardest fought of their lives.
The band celebrates being ‘back in saddle’ but they are interrupted by a distant battle. Knowing that the battle is theirs, Jake leads his band against Magnum Khaos, a demon greater in strength than any they have faced so far.
Daniel Warren Johnson is not afraid to use over-the-top action and tongue-in-cheek clichés to tell the story of Jake and Brooticus. In fact, it goes hand in hand with the metal music influence that spawned this book. All good metal albums have an element of cheese about them; it’s one of the things that makes them appealing and provides a comfortable environment for the listener while the band introduce new ideas and concepts.
This approach is evident in Johnson’s Murder Falcon comics. He picks from the clichés of fantasy and music literature to create an easily accessible world for the readers while at the same time creating something new and exciting. The larger than life elements of this issue are metaphors for the internal struggles of the characters. This is reflected by Jake’s story the most, with numerous flashbacks that give the reader an insight into Jake’s past and the questionable decisions he’s made. There are also a few emotional twists which are becoming the norm for this series. You come for the Metal but you’ll stay for the heart!
Johnson is able to switch from emotional, quiet scenes to bombastic, louder than life battles on a pin head without breaking the reader’s concentration. This ability makes the reading experience fluid while maintaining the emotional punches required for the story to work. This is achieved in two ways.
Firstly, Johnson uses the panel layout to reflect the images they hold. This means that the fight sequences, with the chaotic demons and larger than life characters, have a more varied panel design including inserts, overlaps and page bleeds. For the heart felt, down to Earth moments however, Johnson employs straight forward panel grids. The difference between the two layouts changes the pace at which the reader follows the action and is almost forced to contemplate on the lack of action.
The second way that Murder Falcon differentiates between the two central stories is via the coloring provided by Mike Spicer. The opening scene has a single color theme giving it an emotional depth even before you follow the panels. A quick glance at the page of cold blues tells you everything you need to know about the emotional state of Jake at that moment. This changes dramatically as you turn to the second page where there is a host of vibrant colors spreading across each panel. Even before you get to the battle sequence there is a fantastical element to the coloring, creating the sense that it is somehow unreal, larger than life.
This dramatic shift between the periods in Jake’s life is also evident in the lettering work by Rus Wooton. For the most part, the speech balloons and dialogue reflect the chaos the characters are in. The balloons appear hand drawn, uneven, and the text rattles around inside the white space as the characters are thrown and knocked about. But when it comes to the quiet scenes, Wooton uses a much more understated approach to the lettering. What little speech there is is kept out of the way, allowing the images to breath. It is subtle and reflects the contemplative nature of the images. The transition from one scene to the next in Murder Falcon is like the shift from a fast metal track on an album to the opening chords of a ballad.
Murder Falcon continues to impress as the two story arcs each become engrossing in their own way. The fantasy element becomes more ludicrous allowing the humour to flow from the page and the emotional character arc becomes more heart-breaking, with each step pulling the reader closer to Jake. The storytelling is suburb and, just like true Metal music, it is not afraid to be exactly what it is. It is big, brash and unbelievable but it has a moving story to tell. A story which, thanks to the work of all involved, does not get buried by the fantasy element.
If you haven’t read any Murder Falcon before it will surprise you by its brilliance. The attention to comic craft, the love of the characters, and the musical influences are evident on every page. If you have ever seen The Aquabats! Super Show, then this is a comic book version of that, but for heavy metal music.