The way in which a story is told is quite often just as important as the story’s content; sometimes even more so. We often encounter variations on themes that we’ve seen and heard before but find some burst of inspiration in this new presentation that makes for an entertaining experience. That’s certainly what’s going on with Frank Barbiere (Five Ghosts, Solar: Man of Atom) and Garry Brown‘s The Revisionist, brand-new creator-owned debut from AfterShock Comics. The first line of dialogue in the issue is, “What would you do if you found out reality was actually a lie?” The first place pretty much anyone who reads this’s head is going to go is, of course, The Matrix, so Barbiere makes the intelligent decision not to tease out the reveal but just open with it in a five-page action scene that sets the tone with a brisk pace and dynamic energy.
Brown (Incorruptible) and colorist Lauren Affe (The Paybacks) do the heavy lifting here with visuals that are exciting and advance the story with a kinetic rhythm while our protagonist narrates that nothing is absolute–even time–and he’s dedicated his life to preserving the fragile reality of, it looks like, actual linearity before straight-up murdering some guy four times with a gun that responds not to the pull of a trigger but verbal commands such as, “Kill,” or “Stun.” This cues the flashback to how we got here. It turns out our hero, Martin Monroe, used to be an inmate at Exeter Maximum Security Prison, where apparently he was just the greatest guy, breaking the rules (you know, to help his stuttering friend on laundry detail) and also working with one of the guards to blow the lid off the usual corruption and graft that appears to go down in every fictional American prison south of Shawshank.
Barbiere’s character work shows up here because, while we’ve seen all of these tropes before (The Menacing Antagonist w/ Cronies, The Empathetic Roommate, The Corrupt Warden), the beats land just right and propel the story forward in a satisfying manner. We don’t find out what Martin was in for, which I’m hoping was a deliberate decision to cut exposition but something that will be addressed, as it’s surely germane to character development. Martin certainly doesn’t have a problem resorting to extreme violence when the time comes, an interesting juxtaposition with his otherwise seemingly affable nature and his actions in the opening scene. I was enjoying the ride the entire way through until arriving at the cliffhanger, which fell a little flat, no pun intended.
In order to escape, Martin has to jump off the roof of the prison. You know, let go of what he believes to be true and plunge into a new mindset. Sound familiar? When your premise is as ubiquitous as “The reality we know is a lie,” it seems like you ought not to hang your first cliffhanger on something that old Keanu Neo actually does in that first Matrix movie (probably also steer clear of accidental The Invisibles references while you’re at it). I mean, there are no stakes or danger, we’re not like worried that Martin’s not going to be okay or do anything but make it through his origin and back to that opening scene eventually. Seems like we should have closed on the shocking sight that’s waiting for him on the other side of that portal.
Overall, though, the story certainly earned enough of my good will along the way that I’m interested to see where the first arc is headed, particularly since we still don’t really have any answers about the interesting title or what was actually going down in that first scene. And the art. Brown displayed serious chops over on The Massive and lets loose here with strong framing, composition, and propulsive storytelling throughout while Affe provides a washed-out palette that pops while never distracting from the narrative. So far, these creators haven’t shown us what’s new and different about the story they’re telling, but they’re crafting it in an engaging enough way that I’m on board to see where it’s going. 3.5/5 Black Cat Déjà Vu Glitches.