She-Wolf vol.2: Black Baptism (#1 – 4) – Rich Tommaso

3 out of 5

Lordy, this is a beautiful comic.  Alas, it’s almost a bit too linear to satisfyingly work with Rich’s dream-like plotting, the surreal vibe of volume one shifting into a somewhat more straightforward werewolf vs. monster story that ends way too soon, and if that sentence seems like a confused combination of praise and criticism… well, yes.  That is how I feel.

There’s a lot to love here.  I cannot underline how gorgeous these pages look: brightly colored; stunning, stylized visuals; wonderfully eye-pleasing layouts.  And this kind of half-jokey, naturalistic dialogue – but with hints of something more devious beneath the surface – gives the book a very snappy and yet unsettling sensibility that’s pretty unique to Rich’s work.  But while this resulted in something otherworldly weird in volume one, in which Gabby seemingly discovered her werewolfness, her’s sister’s arc in volume 2, discovering the same, feels at first too scattershot and then, as you’re adapting to that, funnels into a rescue adventure comic, with Gabby traveling to the monster dimension to save sis from a demon.  Adhering to a four issue structure seems too limiting for the latter, and cuts short the experience of the former; this is a similar problem that Dark Corridor suffered from, canceled before it could fully make due on its exploitation setup and thus compressing things into a concluding issue.  I’m unclear if She-Wolf is continuing – I hope so! – or if this was just how this arc was planned, but either way, just as Gabby got a full trade of material to explore her gift, Lizzy was owed the same.  I suppose it could’ve seemed like repetition, but her character is different enough from her sister that I think it could’ve been time well spent, giving the dimension-jumping finale a bit more punch.

The mismatched tone unfortunately carries over to the layouts in some spots as well.  While I could stare at the art for days, reading it is sometimes a bit of a chore, as Rich foregoes paneling in some spots and disobeys clear left-to-right rules, with the reading order wandering about a bit loosely.  Again, this works when everything is surreal, but Black Baptism’s linear moments are hindered by it.

If you enjoyed what Tommaso has been doing in the comic world, and were pleased by the 80s horror vibe of She-Wolf’s first arc, this is still a fun read, just not as consistent in presentation as the opening.  Ideally it gives way to more She-Wolf… but if not, man, you can go back and drool over this artwork again and again.

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