“Severed” (2011-2012)

Another short one to keep things moving along. Also a refreshing change of pace: this is my first comic review. Mazel tov.

Severed caught my eye on an ill-advised trip to Barnes and Noble yesterday. Intrigued by the glowing cover blurbs (alas!), I bought the hardback compilation. My hopes for the book were increased when I read the foreword by Jeff Lemire, which praised Severed for its deep characters and emotional impact.

But I would do well to remember that the folks chosen to write forewords and cover blurbs are the ones who have already expressed their like of the material at hand (and of course, there’s probably money involved). The people who read a work and immediately yell “This is shit!” before climbing up the side of a building and disappearing into the night generally don’t get asked to provide blurbs.

Severed is not bad. It’s fine. It’s perfectly adequate. But it is not subtle, not deep, and not scary.

The story, set in 1916, centers on a young boy named Jack, who has recently learned that he was adopted. He runs away from home in pursuit of his musician father. On the road he is nearly raped by train-car hobos, befriends another runaway named Sam, and meets a creepy traveling  salesman who, it turns out, is less Arthur Miller and more Steve Niles.

[Minor spoilers] The fear here, if it can be called that, comes from the usual genre schlock: depraved sexuality; sinister ulterior motives; and, most of all, cannibalism. The antagonist is a shark-toothed old man who eats children and carves symbols representing his victims all over his flabby old body. He talks–god, does he talk–and that lessens any frightful effect his character could have generated.

I’m not bothered by the content per se. I’m bothered by the billing of it as revolutionary, when it’s just the same old mediocre swill genre fans have been gargling since time immemorial. For the millionth time, novelty isn’t necessary for something to be good. But I hate the pretense of novelty when it masks boring, repetitive, been-done-a-million-times banality.

[More minor spoilers] One positive note is struck by authors Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft’s decision to downplay the gore, revealing it through the occasional sidelong camera angle or, in one particular instance, a dark, shadowy full-frame shot that is more gothic than gory. But the tradeoff is that the writers seem unaware of some of the side effects of extreme violence. When one character–just a kid, no less–loses an arm to the cannibalistic bad guy, he seems to suffer almost no ill effects whatsoever–no blood loss, no shock, no crippling pain–aside from the obvious fact of having one less appendage with which to stab his would-be devourer.

In light of the fact that this is a graphic novel, I’ve decided to give it two separate scores: one for the writing, one for the art. This is the only way to be fair, I think–especially in this case, because Severed‘s one redeeming feature is the artwork. Attila Futaki is a new name to me–I’m far less informed about comics than I’d like to be–but I’ll remember it. His style is perfect for horror, and I’d like to see him do more in the genre.

Severed is pretty, but like so much that’s pretty, it’s paper-thin. Story: 75/100. Art: 90/100.

It’s scary in the way that John Steinbeck is scary. You know, fedoras and suspenders and economic collapse. (ComicsBulletin)

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