Lawless vol. 3 TPB: Ashes to Ashes – Dan Abnett

5 out of 5

This is perfect storytelling, and perfect art. While the Meg – in which Lawless originally appeared – offers more pages per story than 2000 AD, you can still get the kind of fractured storytelling the 6- / 8- / 12-page partitioning encourages; when you’re a new reader of this stuff, that pacing can be a little odd versus the comparatively “clearer” issue-by-issue format of a typical trade. And I’m not saying that one or the other is better or worse – it’s just different. But what’s pretty unique to Lawless is how seamlessly writer Dan makes the whole thing flow together, while also accounting for those splits. If you were reading this in the monthly mag, every issue was amazing; if you’re reading it altogether, it also holds up, without any hitches, whatsoever, in flow.

The book breaks some narrative conventions in the best ways possible: Ashes to Ashes is the breaking point, when all of Metta Lawson’s sass and enforced changes have percolated into an all-out war with Munce: insurmountable odds, rally the troops and etc. Abnett gives us our requisite throwdown (and Phil Winslade delivers splash pages galore), but it’s not indulgent, either positively – victorious heroics – or negatively – Munce laying the smack down and making us wallow in the results. Instead, the flow feels very Saving Private Ryan, in which we’re moreso in the midst of the chaos, and there’s simply no time to celebrate or mourn; between the writer and artist, the control over how fast and slow this unfolds is simply magic, allowing us to feel every beat while also essentially throttling us through it, uncontrollably. This makes the escalation of decisions Lawson must make feel justified. I consider this all a break from convention because it’s not “easy”, and it’s not awe-inspiring – it’s messy; it’s war.

And it’s peak is our second major swerve, which I won’t directly detail here for the sake of spoilers. However, while what occurs could be said to be a sort of generic workaround, the way in which Dan approaches it is not generic – it is given full consideration, and a weighty treatment, again pushing way past trope and in to some heavy character and story work. This stuff is so solid that even if this if your first Lawless experience, I feel the impact comes through.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then – but fully satisfactorily – the conclusion is also not a softball. It’s a very logical followup to what we’ve been shown, and to a very 2000 AD fault: we’re not forgetting the world in which Metta Lawson exists, even if 43 Rega is outside of our usual jurisdiction. The brilliance here is how this maintains the book’s main hooks, because they’re tied to our concerns for the cast and town: in general, a big ol’ fightin’ arc in a comic would maybe give us a last page stinger about the bad guy still being out there somewhere, but otherwise letting us rest in a job well done, and that just isn’t how Abnett has ever approached Lawless, which has been this fascinating exploration of what happens when you try to bring some humanity into MC-1.

On the art front, I feel like when I initially read this digitally, I’d sometimes have trouble discerning foreground from background elements, since Winslade’s pages are so, so dense. However, whether it’s the benefit of a physical copy, or that I’ve gotten more used to it, or that things were touched up, I had no such trouble this time around, to the extent of being fully immersed from page one until the end. Every character; every page; every moment – I could “feel” it through the visuals, and understood exactly where we were, and felt my eyes directed properly around the scenes, whether in war or conversation. Masterful.

The trade includes one cover as a bonus (and it’s the cover on the trade itself…), but with material this good, I’m not going to knock the lack of bonuses – the bonus is getting to read the stuff in one sitting.