It’s hard to know what to expect when an artist writes and draws a sequel or prequel to a comic he originally drew, especially when the writer of the original was Warren Ellis. Will the writing stand up to the original or will it come off as a lame vanity project? Thankfully, “Red: Eyes Only” manages to fit perfectly with the original series, showing that Hamner can not only capture the cynicism and nastiness of Ellis’ voice, but also the tender humanity that’s always there just below the surface. More than that, with colorist Val Staples, Hamner’s art has never looked better. He has written and drawn his best comic to date with “Eyes Only.”
The plot concerns Paul Moses’ first attempt to leave his life as a government killer behind him after an encounter with his brother in England. But, of course, it’s never as easy as just walking away with requirements of ‘one last job’ and unseen consequences that the issue hinge upon. Hamner shows just how monstrous Moses is and how he was made into such a monster. The story revolves around a lot of the same ideas as the original series, wisely. Hamner isn’t out to reinvent Moses or show us a side that’s dramatically different, he uses “Eyes Only” to reinforce the mini-series, underscoring the original ideas of a government-created monster that wants to forget and live a peaceful life.
While Hamner’s writing is good, his art is better. The same blocky, cartoony style that he’s used as long as I can remember is still here, but he’s added another level of texture. Characters look more fully realized and detailed, but in subtle ways. It’s not obvious how Hamner has changed his art and it’s almost impossible not to see it right away. There’s an obvious Art Adams influence that’s been incorporated. It also looks like Hamner’s inking style is broader and rougher in some small degree. There’s a looser, messier look to the art around the edges that fits with the issue; that element of danger and violent energy just below the surface.
The coloring work of Val Staples helps draw the focus to Hamner’s line work in a way that other colorists haven’t in the past. Staples uses muted, pale colors that give a washed out look and places the focus on the line art. He also uses colors to enhance mood, throwing a spot of purple or red on a character’s face to emphasize the emotion in the scene. There isn’t coloring that simple tries to present an accurate reality, it tries to present an accurate depiction of what’s happening in any given scene, both in the world and inside of the heads of characters.
Fans of “Red” will not be disappointed with Cully Hamner’s writing and they’ll be blown away by his art with Val Staples. The writing doesn’t seek to reinvent the idea of the book or character, and the art is Hamner’s best to date. If the absence of Ellis made you nervous, don’t be. “Eyes Only” is exactly the sort of prequel that any fan of “Red” would want. I honestly can’t wait to see what Hamner will do next.