The Immortal: Aggro-Moxie at its Finest

Dean Haspiel’s Immortal opens with narration by a couple of police officers who take protagonist Billy Dogma to jail for putting a crook who messed with his girl Jane Legit in the hospital, but that’s just the prologue.  The story only really begins once Billy’s in jail and Jane shows up to break him out. And once its gets going, creator Dean Haspiel throws the reader through as many walls as it does Billy.

Basically, Billy and Jane are in love. Intensely. Their love awakens a giant cosmic deity which begins laying waste to their town so it’s up to them to stop it.  There’s loads of smashing things and sex and weirdness, combined with bizarre twists and surprisingly poignant genre-bending.  The tone shifts throughout the story from being a Tom Waits song to a superhero monster-smash to a catalogue of the meaning of love to zombies. If that sounds kind of all over the place, that’s because it is, but in a good way.

The pallette for the strip is (mostly) red and black with big thick lines that to me convey a rough energy. The limited palette works well and there’s a huge variety of poses and angles on the things that happen. 

By the way, at the top of Immortal’s website there’s a Warren Ellis quote praising Immortal by drawing a Jack Kirby comparison. And in the afterword Haspiel even cites Jack Kirby as an obvious reference.  If you’re wondering why I’m not making the comparison well, here’s a confession: I’ve never read a Jack Kirby comic. I assume we’re talking about the wild craziness at work here.

There are some clever visual motifs like the constantly heart shaped holes and rubble, that at first I found a bit odd but as I got into the story I realized what kind of oddness had gripped it and I was very pleased.  One issue I had was that the "immortal cosmic deity" was a bit tricky to visualize in the first panels it appeared in, but as the comic went on Haspiel seemed to do a better job of presenting it.

The dialogue suffers from the same sort of clashes in the early parts. The noirish tough guy spiels and overly formal (though never very long) speeches get mixed right in with "eeeks" and non sequiturs.  I find this is more of a problem with the Jane Legit character, but once you get used to the lack of consistency it works itself out.

As a digital comic, there are a couple of issues of presentation that don’t come into play if I were reading it on dead trees, and they contribute immensely to the pacing of the story. Immortal runs in a single column of panels down the centre of your browser. You never have to switch pages in your browser —  you just scroll through the entire story (though it’s probably a good idea to let the whole page load before you start reading; it’s a series of more than 250 GIFs).

I cannot say enough about how important this scroll-through is to the story and how well it works.  This is a story about passionate love and how the characters keep on coming back to things they can’t let go of, and it never really gives you the reader the chance to drop the scrollwheel either.  The largely frantic pacing of the comic is a perfect fit to the digital presentation.  Haspiel also makes good use of some fully black panels to break up scenes so the reader doesn’t get too confused.

If you’re looking for straight ahead superhero-ing or sexiness or a really coherent true-to-life story, you might be disappointed.  Haspiel is after big ideas as much as action in this comic.  There’s a big concept here admist the sex and puking – what Haspiel calls manic "aggro-moxie"  energy. It’s the energy of the thing that keeps driving you forward and that makes it so good.

Immortal is only the first in a planned Billy Dogma trilogy — Haspiel has posted part of the second comic, Fear My Dear, which continues in the same kind of vein.  Is Immortal the best comic among the nominees in the Digital Comic category for this year’s Eisners? I don’t know, but it’s definitely worth a read.  And hey, it made me realize I like Jack Kirby style zaniness. That’s gotta be worth something.