Graphic Novel Review: Area 10

Area 10

Written by Christos N. Gage

Art by Chris Samnee

Letters by Clem Robins

Cover by Lee Bermejo and Brainchild

$19.99 / 184 Pages / Black and White / Hardcover

Vertigo Comics

 

Brodmann's Area 10 isn't a top-secret governmental sub-basement out in New Mexico. It's less a place of gray men than of gray matter. Area 10 is a region of the brain, right behind your forehead, responsible for a lot of complex functions dealing with memory and decision-making processes. Like many regions of your noggin, the extent of Area 10's influence over cognition isn't fully known. That hasn't stopped cultures and cultists throughout history from taking a stab at it. In fact, that's just what this latest Vertigo Crime OGN is all about. Christos Gage and Chris Samnee take a speculative Phillip's head straight to Area 10, and for their protagonist NYPD detective Adam Kamen, it's just the beginning of a very strange trip.

While investigating a series of ritualistic decapitation murders, Kamen comes face to face with a raving lunatic who threatens to harm a baby. Kamen rescues the child, but in doing so, takes a screw driver to his forehead. He survives and stubbornly returns to active duty as quickly as possible, hellbent on solving the serial murder case and bringing the mysterious "Henry the Eighth" killer to justice. Kamen works through the pounding headaches and sleepless nights, but when he starts hallucinating, seeing people on the street as their former or future selves, he reluctantly returns to the hospital to glean some advice from Dr. Avery, the neuropsychologist who treated him during his six-week recovery. Was Kamen's injury a freak accident or was the location of his wound wholly intentional in the same way that many lost souls willingly cut themselves to create a mystical third eye? Is the hole in Kamen's skull and the damage to the Area 10 region of his brain offering him a new level of insight, even supernatural foresight? What, if anything, does all this have to do with Henry and his seemingly random spree of homicides? Or is Kamen simply losing his mind?

Rendered in rich black and white, Area 10 is a gorgeous book that harkens back to a bygone era when science fiction comics had more to do with detection than spandex. Samnee is a master of light and shadow, and for anyone who's drooled over his black and white commission sketches and pinups, you'll know that the noirish sensibility of the Vertigo Crime line is the ideal showcase for his pencils and inks. You don't need color when the control of positive and negative space is this tight. These pages look like the bedsheets in the afterglow of an octopus orgy, a scatter-shot rorschach blot of ink pulled taut to reveal an extremely detailed image of men behaving badly. It's a grizzly book with the kind of Black & Decker carnage that keeps Bob Vila up at night, reeling from a fever dream about that one renovation gone horribly awry. It's a bloody book without a speck of crimson. Even still, the calmer day-to-day sequences of this procedural feel crisp and clean. Where some artists rely on meticulous line work to carve out details and texture, Samnee is all about form. If Gary Frank or Frank Quitely are premiere examples of draftsmen who excel at drawing a figure in realistic clothing through use of line, Samnee is their equal counterpart through the manipulation of form. Rather than drawing the creases in a suit, he shows where the shadows nestle into them. Put another way, he doesn't draw people or objects, just the way that light touches surfaces. 

If I haven't drilled it in enough, the guy's damn good.

For his part, Gage tells a classic crime caper with the kind of speculative science that leaves you thinking well after the book's made its way back to the shelf. At its heart, there's a tough guy and a dame, an angry chief and a mysterious killer. There are computers on the desks and cell phones in pockets, but this story feels a relic in the best of ways. It's a find for sure. Both visually and tonally, I was reminded of another modern tribute to the pulps, a book called Heathentown by Corinna Sara Bechko and her husband Gabriel Hardman. Both feature that incredible mastery of light and dark as well as a narrative straight out of the Creepy comics of the 60s and 70s. That the science is wacky and the exchanges border on the melodramatic is a good thing in this genre. I can't tell you why, but the fists are meant to be 100% ham. Science and mysticism ought to mesh and collide and pull heists together. Drinks and prescription meds are meant to be hurled at the wall. And if a kiss doesn't look like it hurts like a sock full of silver dollars to the jaw, the love birds simply aren't doing it right. That's just how it goes in a yarn.

It's one of the better books to come out of Vertigo Crime, so give it a look. At best, it's the good kind of gut punch. At worst, it's better than a hole in the head. 

 


Paul Montgomery can not use a screwdriver without repeating, "Righty tighty, lefty loosey." He is 25 years old.  Find him on Twitter or contact him at paul@ifanboy.com. 

Comments

  1. Egads! That is fantastic art.

  2. @DaveCarr: It’s a gorgeous book.

  3. Samnee on Vertigo Crime is a great fit. Actually, I’d love to see Gabriel Hardman (mentioned in Paul’s review also do a book for this line.

    Paul, I only skimmed the review because I full expect to pick this up today. But it sounds like I’m really gonna dig this one. 

    @Conor — Curious… how does this one rank among the stack of Vertigo Crime you’ve read? I know you’ve been following this line. 😉 

     

  4. "…bed sheets in the after-glow of an octopus orgy."  I…I just…uh…you know what, I don’t know where or how you came by this comparison, but I certainly feel the need to get this book now.

  5. Been eagerly waiting for this since I heard Samnee talk about doing it. Those pages are stunning, aren’t they? And Paul, you’re not alone in seeing the similarities between Chris and Gabe Hardman. I know Gabe and Chris are big fans of one another, and were slated to co-illustrate the new Atlas series at Marvel (Chris unfortunately had to bow out). I’m a HUGE fan of both of these guys work, and can’t wait to set my eyes on Area 10 when it arrives next week.

     

  6. It’s odd that a guy I had never heard of 6 months ago (Samnee) has quickly become one of my favorite artists.  Can’t wait to get this.

  7. This sounds good. I’m gonna have to check it out.

  8. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    This does look great indeed. The "third eye" plot reminds me of an old X-FILES comic that I had way back when, but this art looks way better. Consider this added to my request list from my library.

    …And now I have octopus orgies on the brain. Thanks a lot, Paul.

  9. Very nice review.  I’m sold.

  10. Yeah, I have to read this.

  11. This just got added to my want list.  Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  12. I think I’ll be getting this soon.  Sounds great.

  13. I picked this up at the comic store today based on this review, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The story had me interested the whole way through and the art was very good at conveying tense moments.  I also have to say I really like the smaller hardcover format that this comes out in.  I might be checking out some of the other Vertigo Crime novels.

  14. Wow, really love the art on that page. I just might have to get this.