I’ve been a fan of Nick Spencer’s writing for Image with books like “Existence 2.0,” its sequel “Existence 3.0,” and “Forgetless” all showing interesting concepts and lots of confidence in his storytelling, but “Shuddertown” #1 is a marked improvement. Along with artist Adam Geen, Spencer delivers a first issue that grabs you with the first panel and doesn’t let go. The writing is subtle and carries an underlying tension that’s heightened by the idiosyncratic art.
Isaac Hernandez is a cop with a problem: he keeps getting cases where there is DNA evidence at the scene of a murder, except the DNA always links back to deceased criminals that he arrested years ago. He also has lingering aftereffects of getting shot, issues with medication, and looks close to a serious breakdown. Despite him narrating the comic, we don’t entirely get inside of his head; Or, more accurately, it’s hard to believe everything we’re told. Hernandez isn’t the most reliable of narrators given his mental state and his discussion about liars and lies.
If there’s something that separates “Shuddertown” #1 from other comics, it’s that prospect of an unreliable narrator/narrative perspective. Because of the visual nature of comics, an unreliable narrative perspective is rarely used despite it being a common prose technique. However, this story is so tied to Hernandez’s perspective and what he shares with us that it could be just that. How much of what we see is the truth? How much is a lie? That looks like a big part of the mystery here.
The blur of truth and lie is reflected in Adam Geen’s art, which is both photorealistic and dreamlike at times. His work looks like a cross between Alex Maleev and David Mack depending on the panel, giving a visual representation of the idea that this is what happened, but filtered through Hernandez’s perspective. In the first scene, people look very real, very referenced, but the bright lights are presented in a dreamlike fashion, blending into people. The world around the characters doesn’t look real, somewhat similar to the New York of “Eyes Wide Shut,” which was a dreamlike version of the city filtered through the character’s perspective.
The pacing of the first issue is somewhat relaxed and dreamlike. Hernandez seems to drift through it in a daze of pills and mental problems. Is he responsible for the deaths he’s investigating? Is he even fit to be a cop? Is he lying to us? “Shuddertown” #1 is a comic that requires close reading and attention and, hopefully, will pay off big time over the course of the series. Nick Spencer continues to be a writer worth watching and Adam Geen makes a great impression here.