Reckless: Follow Me Down
The fifth book in the bestselling RECKLESS series is here! Crime noir masters ED BRUBAKER & SEAN PHILLIPS present yet another original graphic novel starring troublemaker-for-hire Ethan Reckless.
In the wake of the 1989 earthquake, Ethan takes a trip to San Francisco to search for a missing woman. But almost immediately, he finds himself going down a path of darkness and murder in a case unlike anything he’s faced before.
FOLLOW ME DOWN is the most intense of the RECKLESS books so far and yet another hit from the most acclaimed team in comics, creators of PULP, MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES, CRIMINAL, THE FADE OUT, and KILL OR BE KILLED. A must-have for all BRUBAKER & PHILLIPS fans!
Vengeance is a powerful force in fiction, more so when dealing with crime fiction. It’s a base motivator for both crime and justice, two sides of the same coin that drive characters to act in ways that naturally boost emotion. It’s why so many protagonists and antagonists alike have their primary want in some form of vengeance or revenge. It’s the reactionary emotion to a loss that fuels the quest for a character to have something made right.
Almost always though, there’s either a deeper need underneath the vengeance, usually coming to odds with the reactive emotions. A good tale of revenge, whether it sees the actual retribution enacted, knows what that underlying emotion is. It will also figure out a way to harness it to transcend the original notion of retribution. It’s no surprise that a series like Reckless makes that realization, and uses it to tell a thematically rich, character-driven tale of vengeance and connection.
Follow Me Down – written by Ed Brubaker, with art and letters by Sean Phillips and colors by Jacob Phillips – serves as both a sequel and companion to the last volume, The Ghost in You. The plots are unrelated but run concurrently for a majority of both graphic novels, with Ethan taking a case in San Francisco while Anna stays in L.A. Ethan’s case deals with a wife who’s gone missing right after the massive earthquakes that hit the city but turn out to be the woman’s quest for revenge.
As Ethan switches from locating Rachel to assisting in her ruthless killing of the men that abused her as a child. That quest comes short along with the budding connection between Ethan and Rachel. He knows Rachel will never return to her old life now and accepts The volume then extends further than any other into the future, reaching 2004 before Ethan reunites with Rachel and puts the retribution to rest. The shift to the near present also reveals a key detail that alters the experience of reading both this volume and the previous, making it essential to read them back to back. It’s also a heartbreaking reveal, so plan your reading accordingly.
The story of Follow Me Down is a straightforward mystery that morphs into a revenge tale, and Brubaker knows it. His scripting is engaging and rich for the characters but doesn’t try to make the plot overly complex. With mysteries and neo-noir stories, there’s a tendency to add complexity and moving parts to twist the tropes of the genre, functioning as window dressing to the core motives that permeate crime. What Brubaker does here is lean into the tropes, and focus the creative energy on the characters to ensure the story avoids feeling contrived.
This volume uses Anna’s brief interludes to provide a metacommentary on the clichés and tropes Ethan finds himself trapped in. It’s a fun and effective way to illustrate how story beats can be repetitive, especially to those who know the genre. Brubaker takes it a step further than just simple lampshading, using those tropes to dig further into the characters and establishing a strong voice, providing that repetition doesn’t matter. Ethan and Rachel can bond over the similarities between their connection and Double Indemnity, mention it on the page, and it only makes the story feel more concrete.
Brubaker’s anchoring of character and emotion through the leanings of tropes is an excellent decision and allows for the script to dig even further into the characters. That choice to ground this volume, maybe more than any other, in specific emotions gives the story an edge that makes it an enthralling page-turner. Brubaker’s words on the page feed into the emotion, working in pure harmony with the art and colors to ensure that emotion comes through. Just the art and colors would be enough to convey the emotional core to the audience, but the words sharpen the feelings to a degree they cut like daggers. When Brubaker drops a line like “What a human soul needs isn’t always healthy” it’s hard not to experience a physical reaction.
Phillips gets to show a more gruesome side to his art in this volume, delivering multiple kills that feel different from those in previous Reckless stories. The underpinning that’s changed is the emotion that the story utilizes to base its action sequences in. There’s raw, burning anger from Ethan matched with the cold, steeled spite of Rachel that delivers two completely different results as they kill the various men who wronged Rachel. Phillips’s linework and layouts incorporate those emotions into his art, heightening the emotion on the page. This is clear from the book’s cold open, where Rachel kills her first target, the gunshot shown from a wide angle that feels mechanical.
There’s no pleading, no multiple panels or cuts on the action. It’s one panel to reveal the gun, and then a simple shot. The blood splatter gets lost in the flash of the shot, [Jacob] Phillips’s colors blurring the two for a powerful effect. The next page moves to the fallout of the violence, but it’s just as mechanical, Rachel’s face is obstructed or not shown until the final page of the chapter. But even then, Phillip’s art doesn’t give a clear indication of the emotion on the face. The art features a low-angle shot, Rachel’s expression in more detail than a standard Phillips page. It’s a chilling expression and does an excellent job of establishing the first primary emotion of this volume.
The second emotion, the burning fury from Ethan comes in about two-thirds of the way through the volume. The two have tracked down their next target, Ethan willing to help after learning Rachel’s story. She and her mother were part of a roaming group of hippies, and the Brickman boys used this to take advantage of and sleep with the women. Rachel attempted multiple times to escape before finally obtaining her freedom. Their tracking of the Brickmans leads to an abandoned gas station in the desert, where they plan to ambush them. As Ethan surveys the location, he finds another young woman caged, the station serving as a waypoint for the human trafficking of the Brickmans. Something in Ethan snaps and he makes an all-out assault on the station. His fury bleeds into the art and colors, the gore and flames from his attack brightening the darkness of the desert night.
Phillips makes the differentiation between this action and Rachel’s clear, using more dynamic shots and panels. Ethan’s fighting is sloppy and reactive, diametrically opposed to the mechanical actions of Rachel in that cold open. Ethan stains his hands with the Brickman’s blood and [Jacob] Phillips’s colors draw the eye to it. This contrasts with the description of Ethan blacking out, his rage blinding him to his actions, Phillips ensures we see either the violence as Ethan inflicts it or a clear indication of what he wrought. A panel with a knife straight to the heart, the caved-in face, and even the explosive force that gives Ethan a concussion all reveal how both Phillips translate that emotional core to the page.
Follow Me Down is yet another engrossing installment to the Reckless series of graphic novels, showcasing a new side to Ethan. Brubaker and the Phillips continue their streak of pitch-perfect mystery/action stories, reading like the comic equivalent of dollar-bin paperbacks waiting to be revered. The emotion shines across the page, thanks to [Sean] Phillips's linework, capturing the range of emotion that fuels vengeance, from mechanical precision to blinding fury. The coloring from [Jacob] Phillips matches those emotions, using a palette of cool grays and blues in sharp contrast to explosive reds and oranges. Brubaker’s words and story weave these emotions together, allowing the plot to take a backseat to the emotion and the characters attached to them.
Like every Reckless graphic novel, you can go in having never read the previous one, working on its own to tell a rich tale of vengeance and how it can lead to a deeper connection. But it’s worth going back and reading the previous volumes, to chart the subtle differences in the storytelling prowess of Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Jacob Phillips. Each graphic novel is just as fascinating and enjoyable to read, and it's worth experiencing The Ghost in You and Follow Me Down back to back.
The World of RECKLESS Gets Ten Times Twice as Dangerous in its latest OGN, Follow Me Down
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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