One Shot Does It All
Is it Love that makes the world go ‘round? Or how about just love of Money? Maybe, in the more abstract, it’s Power. Then again, there’s always Fear and her twin sister, Trust, that could vie for the top spot. And, certain psychological schools will tell us that it’s anything from Comfort to Pleasure to Self-Destruction. But Image Comics newest debut, The Believer, offers up two alternate answers. For the creators of The Believer, the keyword must be Hope—even as the story within The Believer has its guns dead-targeted on Guilt. Believe it or not, Hope and Guilt doth beget the world of the Believer.
Not only is this Image Introduces . . . issue the first-appearance of the Believer character, it is also the first professional foray into comics for his creators, writer Rob Schamberger and artist Thom Thurman. Moreover, it may also be the first time that the dubious blueprint to making comics held simple and true: Devise a quality story, develop it and visually render it with panache, then pitch it to a publisher. Many creators have tried traveling this yellow brick road, only to be endlessly waylaid by the flying monkeys of rejection - to their credit, though, just as many remain undaunted, either stepping back upon the road much traveled by for another try or moving over to independent self-publishing. But Schamberger and Thurman (with Chad Molder) make no bones about it: lightning struck and, like that rarest take from a film shoot, they got it in one.
Half-crazed with a mixture of awe and disdain, the oft-rejected denizen of comic limbo might ask (or cry): How? Was it pure motives and dauntless hope? Was it their unjaded optimism? Was it dumb luck? Or, could it be the quality of their product combined with being in the right place at the right time?
Dunno. Nor do I imagine that Schamberger or Thurman have the exact answer. But, it does not take a mental giant to deduce that looking at The Believer itself may hold at least some of the answers. That is, one could easily note that it is not super-hero fare, that is it not traditional 6-/9-panel storytelling, that is it not basic chronological narrative, and that it is neither ultra-realistic nor confoundingly abstract. Very good—as I said, those deductions were the easy part. Now that we have rule out what The Believer isn’t, what is it?
In the process of 22 short pages (actually, 21 and a title page), Schamberger, Thurman, and Molder manage to do what eludes even the most erudite and eloquent would-be comic creators (and some of the current professionals): to create a world, tell a story, maintain suspense, and establish a mood. These four elements, too often forgotten by epic-minded auteurs, cross-over driven publishers, and inconsistent monthly titles, are strong and present in The Believer. The setting is not too different from our own, except for the experiences of one homicidal man, known only to us as Fred. Whether it’s drugs, bad wiring, or outside manipulation, Fred (guilty of killing a friend for no better reason, it seems, than “feeling him up”) suspects that he is now the hunted rather than the hunter. Notes, signs, and voices all tell Fred that they know of his crime, one that only worsens as he begins to kill those whom he suspects as being part of this harassment. But, what Fred suspects, we know: Vengeance is being sought by a pale-faced, six-gun apparition—one part Lamont Cranston’s Shadow, one part Scrooge’s Jacob Marley, and one part Jesse James. No origin is given for this figure (whom, I believe, we must call the titular Believer), but one is not needed; nor is an explanation for Fred’s homicidal tendencies. They would not enhance the story, only clutter it. Instead, Schamberger, Thurman, and Molder stick to the essential four, calling upon colorist Ron Riley to deliver the climax’s coup de grace.
So, again, what is The Believer? It’s the core. A solid story told by solid storytellers, with plenty of mood to spare and air to breathe should Image decide to move further into the shadowy corners of this new myth. It’s the bastard child—ornery but potent—of Hope and Guilt given a legitimizing legal guardian in the form of Image Comics. It’s a world, where perhaps Love, Money, Power, Fear, Comfort and all the rest will be given the chance to play a part, but none with more impact, I believe, than the falling hammer of six-gun in the hands of a dead-eye.