Atmosphere and aesthetics are core elements of a good neo-noir, a genre that can channel a sense of ‘just vibes’ more than most. A book like NO/ONE hits and riffs on those elements, channeling its atmosphere and aesthetics to deliver an addictive look into the intersection of noir tropes and the pulp vigilante story. The subset of the crime conventions blends dialogue and story with the overall look of a piece, making sense of rhythm and tone that draws the audience in and makes experiencing the work an almost compulsion. Unsurprisingly, protagonists in the genre (primarily detectives) are junkies of one kind or another, as digging into and solving a mystery offers a high like no other.
NO/ONE #2 – written by Kyle Higgins and Brian Buccellato with art from Geraldo Borges, colors by Mark Englert, and lettering from Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou – wastes no time in dealing with the events of the last issue, building on the central mystery of who the titular vigilante is. The issue also continues to juggle a large ensemble cast ranging from police, reporters Julia and Teddy (who headline the accompanying podcast), and possible suspects. Still, Ben Kern takes center stage this time around. Kern is the father of suspected killer Aaorn Kern, who’s tied up with NO/ONE and the original accountability killings. He’s also the now former Assistant Chief of Operations, choosing to walk away from the force due to the negative optics of his son.
A new victim sets the story for this issue in motion: Nathan Cade, the local university’s head football coach. This is the first break from the NO/ONE pattern in that the vigilante did not doxxed him. As the body cools and police continue their canvassing of the scene, NO/ONE is spotted at the scene and flees, leaving behind a camera. Kern then uses the interaction as leverage to confront his son and tries to eke out the vigilante’s identity to no avail. A press conference closes out the issue, laying out the murder and reveals the political forces closing into the NO/ONE issue with a state senator trying to recruit Kern for a public redemption arc and to use a figurehead in the ongoing war with vigilantes. Kern refuses to play the part and leaves the force, clear that getting to the truth of his son’s murder is more important than anything else.
The accompanying podcast reinforces the focus on Ben Kern, even as Julia (Rachael Leigh Cook) contextualizes the information from this issue. She and her editor Teddy (Patton Oswalt), walk the listeners through the Kern family’s involvement in Richard Roe and NO/ONE and then play an interview between Teddy and Ben. Not only does this give a concrete voice to Ben, but it expands his perspective on the events of the issue and plays up the emotional reaction of the officer to the effects this mystery has had on his family.
The sound design gets out of the way of this dialogue-driven approach to storytelling and echoes the craft on display in the issue. The choice for the technical elements to stay out of focus by not delivering any surprise, overly produced sound effects. This creates an emphasis on what is there, which is the story being told and the way it is delivered. It’s a concise, well-executed use of the medium that makes the podcast feel like an essential part of the experience by aligning with the stylistic choices made in the comic.
The issue’s script is lean and verbose in the best of ways, evoking a style in the vein of creatives like Brian Michael Bendis. The scripting creates a natural rhythm for the dialogue, ensuring the pages never drag, even when filled with large text balloons. The writing style works with the genre, delivering an exciting and complex web of mystery, playing on a neo-noir sensibility to justify the dense text. This is a lived-in world with a sense of history, and the dialogue lets that flow naturally rather than making hamfisted attempts to convey it in narration or long-winded speeches.
That sense of packed dialogue is also broken up through the primary action sequence, which delivers a quieter encounter. A uniformed officer notices NO/ONE; a few of his colleagues attempt to stop the vigilante, but they can escape off the side of the building. Other than the SFX of shots fired, tasers buzzing, and some commands issued by the police, the moment lacks any sounds. This creates a sense of the unexpected, breaking a style established by the issue that lets Borges’s art and Englert’s colors dominate the page.
Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering choices also get their moment to shine in the sequence, illustrating the rapid fire of the police chopper’s bullets with a rolling wave of SFX. The placement of the SFX channels a wave pattern, or the rough outline of sheet music, giving a rhythmic quality to the effect that conveys the sounds being experienced. That panel with the SFX then leads to two almost silent pages, with only one astonished word balloon providing sound to the scene. It’s an effective way of constructing the action while giving the art direction, coloring, and lettering each a moment to shine.
Englert’s coloring in this sequence is a standout for the issue, with the wintery blues of the city channeling a powerful sense of cold and weary to this world. NO/ONE isn’t flashy or trying to play up this exchange with the cops, instead delivering quick blows and even more immediate attempts to disengage. Bathing everything in the cool blues of the night and the whites of falling snow also set the sequence apart from the warmer colors of the interior scenes for the rest of the book, highlighting the contrast between the action and talky aspects of the series. It’s an excellent dichotomy that trains what to expect when the palette shifts.
The art in this issue also establishes the baseline for the split aspects of the series, utilizing a heavy inking style and more halftones in action, evoking a pulp feeling for the NO/ONE appearances. In the bulk of the issue, less pronounced lines and nominal shadows convey clarity in the dialogue-driven scenes. Borges understands these moments are driven by the words on the page and emphasizes a concise artistic style to ensure that the conversations between characters and political maneuverings in the latter half of the issue are prioritized.
The reverse is true in the action sequence, as the art plays up the shadows, allowing nuances to render figures in silhouette, playing on the shadows of the night, and exploring halftone to give a specific texture to the vigilante. The sequence starkly contrasts the previous styling of the issue, and Borge picks up on the stylistic threads of the last issue. It’s exciting to stay with a simple panel layout, never breaking from standard rectangular panels. That choice gives a sense of restraint and control, showcasing an excellent use of blocking and focusing on showcasing the action. The panels provide stability in this scene that lets the work inside; the shading, halftones, and bullet effects convey the action in crystal clarity.
NO/ONE #2 is an excellent sophomore issue to a Swiss watch of a comic, playing up the mystery and neo-noir undertones to deliver a compelling, dialogue-driven story. The issue continues to play close to its chest the identity of its titular vigilante and instead focuses on Ben Kern, giving a strong motivation for him to as a protagonist of the story. The book creates an interesting one-two punch in its execution of the character-focused, dialogue-heavy sequences, broken up by a stylized, action set piece that mostly forgoes dialogue in favor of highlighting the art, colors, and lettering.
This book feels like it was made for fans of an atmospheric, grounded Detective Comics arc, as it channels the feeling of a book from Bendis, Greg Rucka, or Ed Brubaker. Crime and mystery fans will be right at home with this issue, even if the larger Radiant Black line has not aligned with those readers’ interests. The bonus of the accompanying podcast helps to center it in that specific genre of storytelling, adding a true crime/journalistic heat that makes it stand apart from those previous reference points.
NO/ONE #2: Shadows of Shadows
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 9/109/10
- Cover Art - 9/109/10
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