Page 45 Review by Stephen
"See? That's what was going around in my head.
"An endless argument spin cycle.
"Point, counterpoint... all day long."
In which the snow blows thicker and thicker.
To begin with it's almost soft. It's certainly softer than a sidewalk from six storeys up.
It tumbles across the sprawling city as far as the eye can see, which is further than you might think; especially when you're on one of its rooftops, so precariously close to the edge and determined to jump.
From below the thick flakes recede, smaller and smaller, into the heavens which glow a rich, luminous turquoise, while below all is neon-lit for danger.
By the final four pages of the first chapter it's a veritable blizzard in blinding, icing-sugar white, with wild flashes of thought and explosions of violence like landmines detonated in your head. Then, when it's settled, there's a moment of clarity - for Dylan at least.
He's not going to kill himself. He's going to kill other people instead.
From the Eisner-Award winning creators of CRIMINAL, FATALE and THE FADE OUT, the first six pages are a bludgeoning barrage of quite cathartic violence, all the more brutal to behold because Phillips has dispensed with the frames and the gutters to go full-bleed to the edge of each page. It's more immediate. It's more in-your-face, just like that shotgun, which is meticulously rendered and weighted.
Crucially, however, even if it's more difficult to draw, then it's as easy to read as ever, for the three-tier structure remains intact, the panels inset instead against an extended background. It's something he carries right through the subsequent flashbacks and it pays off especially outside because the wider sense of space is phenomenal.
Anyway, in case you're reading this on the product page rather than the blog, here's some of Dylan's socio-political self-justification. It's not why he's blowing holes in these very bad people, but isn't it kind of comforting to know that you're making the world a better place than it currently is?
"Just look at the news for five fucking minutes and it's obvious...
"Big business controls your government...
"Assholes go on shooting rampages almost daily...
"Terrorists blow up airports and train stations...
"Cops kill innocent black kids and get away with it...
"Psychopaths run for President...
"Oh, and the Middle East is one nuke away from turning us all to dust...
"And that's just the tip of the iceberg."
What follows does not lead directly into the opening sequence - this is a long-form work, and Brubaker has a lot to explore in terms of psychology and practicalities before Dylan develops into a proficient and equanimous mass murderer - but it does go some way to explaining how Dylan, studying later in life than most at NYU, might eventually find himself a) with a shotgun b) using it.
It begins with that attempt at suicide - not his first, either - and that began with a girl. It began with his best friend called Kira, one of the few people Dylan felt ever understood him. She got his sense of humour, his taste in music and his sense of isolation which had already set in before his flatmate Mason got between the two of them by dating.
"Their relationship ruined the one good thing I had.
"Kira still came to our place all the time, but almost never to hang out with me.
"And that made me feel even lonelier than I usually did."
That sense of being cut off from Kira is emphasised by Phillips in a similar way to what Ware did at the window in JIMMY CORRIGAN: by distancing Dylan, isolated inside his own panel, from the rest of the couch where Kira and Mason sit closer together. Breitweiser bathes the lovers in light from the television set they're watching, whereas Dylan remains shrouded in darkness. I can't imagine anything much more uncomfortable.
Oh wait, I can, because that's what happens next. And eventually it leads to the rooftop.
Where that leads is even more startling, but I'm not about to spoil that for you now. All I will say is that Dylan's head is far from healthy. He's fallen far enough already, but he's got a long way to go before picking up a gun and going if not postal then at least house-hunting.
As I've mentioned before, one of Brubaker's many fortes is making you want to spend as much time as possible in his protagonists' minds, no matter how disturbed. Here he does so in part through Dylan's vulnerability and confessional, apologetic and self-searching tone. However confident in his newly acquired worldview Dylan seems on the first six pages - and I'd place money on that being a 'good' day - none of that is reflected in any red-bloodedly aggressive tendencies either earlier in life or even now.
This is not a revenge story and Dylan's acts are not an expression of angry contra mundum. They are instead acts of survival which require - and result in - all sorts of practicalities which Brubaker explores in depth.
One of those practicalities is avoiding any meaningful conversation with Kira even though their relationship grows increasingly complicated and Kira's being honest with him. The guilt that he's not reciprocating gnaws at Dylan, but he is fully aware that if he begins to offload in one way he's likely to do so in others. Kira's love and genuine, deep-rooted concern for him is the one thing he has left, and it's almost certain to evaporate instantly if she learns he's beginning to stalk and murder very bad men, whatever the crimes they've committed.
As well as his prowess as a weather and landscape artist - there are so many daylight cityscape shots of extraordinary detail which Breitweisser colours with a finger-numbing freeze - Phillips gets to show off his photo-realistic skills as Dylan sifts through the erotic fantasy stories his father illustrated, recalling his dad's craft by conjuring one of those nudes in his mind's eye. Wouldn't you just know that she'd look one hell of a lot like Kira? And as he remembers perving over the magazines with his young friends, aged 6 or so, he realises who has behaved so horrifically as to merit being his first target.
This begs further practicalities for a novice like Dylan, like finding a gun which won't be traced. As to hunting down someone he only knew only tangentially many moons ago, well, that's what Facebook's for, right?
But then there's the self-searching and doubt which I alluded to earlier.
"See, I kept having this sick feeling that I might have killed someone for no reason.
"Like, think about it for a second. There had to be some possibility that I hallucinated [REDACTED]. "Didn't there? And if I did, if it wasn't actually real, that meant my head was fucked, right?
"Which meant the way I remembered that day with Teddy could be wrong too... Right?"
Now, that's all very specific to this particular story, but one of Brubaker's interests lies in our universal, shared experiences and another of his skills is in making those connections and exploring their implications.
"I've read how memory works...
"I know we edit our memories so we look better in them.
"So what if I made up the whole thing?
"What if I was just like those assholes back in high school, pretending to have some secret link to the tragic dead kid?"
That would be Teddy.
"Except... Why would I make up a childhood story, especially one as sick as that, and never tell anyone about it?
"Who makes up a story and keeps it a secret?
"What is the point of that?"
Sorry to keep the quotations so cryptic, but you've got to be wondering what his memory was now... Right?
We've got a long way to go before we get to page one.
For a masterclass in Brubaker getting readers to root for the least likely candidate, try CRIMINAL: LAST OF THE INNOCENT.