WHERE IS JAKE ELLIS #1-3 of 5 by Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic and Joseph Frazzeta, published by Image Comics commencing in November 2012: WHERE IS JAKE RYAN is a handsomely mounted espionage-agents-on-the-run thriller, in the vein of a Robert Ludlum or Donald Hamilton pulp: that “vulnerable (physically & emotionally) secret agents racing through a global backdrop meant to seem realistically drawn” Jason Bourne jazz. (There’s some psychic power tomfoolery too, but it is presented in a conservative way that keeps it visually consistent with the thiller elements).
Zonjic and Frazzeta are working in a “cinematic” mode but it still suffices as a comic— they don’t use the language of comics on every page but they at least know how to drop a background here or slow time there. It’s not as emotionally charged as a Naoki Urasawa comic but they don’t have Naoki Urasawa's page-count either (or his sentimentality). Zonjic seems like he’s aspiring to the same school as guys like Caniff, Frank Robbins, John Paul Leon—that’s a damn good school, by me. He can spot a black; knows how to pace a page. Zonjic and Frazzeta’s colors are full of detail without being showy or crass—e.g. an action scene at an airport in #2 is a nearly one-color affair, drenched in oranges that accentuate the drama rather than drown the art. And thankfully, Edmondson knows how to trust his artists. The pages aren’t crammed with show-off dialogue or bullshit narration. He keeps the story moving at a rapid clip -- without feeling like that clip is at the expense of missing out on anything significant. Oh, there aren’t a lot of “character moments” but… it’s an espionage thriller; do you want there to be...?
It doesn’t take much by way of risks, though—FURY does everything this comic does, and it takes wilder risks with its audience. Or Cinemax’s STRIKEBACK has nudity-- pretty nudity. It's a bit generic. But WHERE never falls on its face either—seems like they’re hitting the target they’re aiming at. We can debate the merits of the target or our affection therefor, but this is at least a professionally made comic book.
One thing, though...
I didn’t really have any earthly clue what was going on the entire time.
WHERE is the sequel to a comic called WHO IS JAKE RYAN. I dug Zonjic’s work on other gigs, but I’d missed that series. This had #1 on it; I guesstimated that #1 meant it would serve a “jumping-on” point, a place for new readers to smell what this comic is cooking. Turns out? Nope. None of the contents of WHO are ever set out in any detail—even though WHERE appears to be a direct continuation of those events! Who are the main characters? What do they want? How are they related? What do the bad guys want? Why are they being chased in WHERE? First base. Wait, wrong-- WHO is on first. What’s on second? THIRD BASE!
There’s a PREVIOUSLY section in #1 – it looks like this. “As a matter of fact, I WILL fuck myself.” I think a shittier PREVIOUSLY page that actually conveyed information would’ve been swank. That’d have been nice. That’d have probably solved everything. But Jesus-- why am I armchair quarterback-ing a PREVIOUSLY PAGE? Why am I in THAT position? I admired the craft to WHERE enough that I might someday get around to WHO, possibly. I wouldn’t spit at the thought of it at least. But what do you make of this? Is this anything?
There was Mike Mignola, and Mignola found success by selling his characters in a series of miniseries. For Hellboy, for BPRD. And then that became a thing. It became a Way Comics Are Sold. The series-of-miniseries approach, it offers all sorts of advantages that an ongoing doesn’t, e.g. a steady stream of new #1 issues, a diminished need to explain long breaks between issues, etc. But Mignola? He seems to have his miniseries function as such—at least, when I’ve read BPRD, those tend to start with some new mission, some new situation presenting itself. The series-of-miniseries to present constant jumping-on points. A character yells “In this miniseries, I am going to go do something something something shadows on statues.” Hijinx ensue.
That PREVIOUSLY page looks cool. Changing the title from WHO to WHERE seems cool. The only thing that was uncool was how I felt like I just wasn’t on the radar of the people making this comic. But there’s a system for how comics are sold, and they just did the system. They followed the map that’s in place, stepped in the footsteps of bigger feet, did “What You’re Supposed to Do” … Still, in the end, I’m sitting there and it took me three months, until I finally said, “Oh wait, I think those guy have psychic powers.” Is the system wrong? I wouldn't say that. But it just seems like they did the system without thinking about the Why of the System. WHY IS JAKE RYAN?
Easy answers and conventional thinking. Form over function. Cool over substance. A disregard for new readers. WHERE IS JAKE RYAN does a lot of the things that comics can do right. Does it also do a lot of the things comics can do wrong? More importantly, I always thought it was weird at the end of SIXTEEN CANDLES, when Jake Ryan lets Anthony Michael Hall rape Jake’s drunk girlfriend. I was really hoping that’d be addressed somewhere in this series. Why did he-- ....What? Jake ELLIS???
… shit. I’ve really been reading this comic ALL WRONG, you guys.