FIRST ISSUE: THE WHITE SUITS
An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.
The White Suits, we are told on the inside front cover of No.1, are “mysterious killers dressed in white who savaged the Cold War Soviet underground — then disappeared. ... And now they’ve resurfaced.” That’s about all we know about the White Suits. And we don’t learn it from the pictorial portion of the book.
Similarly, we also know that an FBI agent, Sarah Anderson, is on the trail of the Suits because she believes they can tell her how and why her father, a State Department official, vanished at the same time as the Suits did. The rest of this inaugural issue is jammed with murder and mayhem rendered in one of the most spectacularly energetic drawing styles I’ve seen in comics. Toby Cypress deploys an unwavering line to depict characters in a sometimes abbreviated visual shorthand — in black and white accented in red, the only color in the book. Alas, the pictures are sometimes confused however attractive they are, and the verbal content doesn’t help much.
The pictures are often, but not always, accompanied by a voice-over, utterances of a person who seems in constant pain and as perplexed as the visuals. We don’t meet Sarah by name until the end of the book, when she is talking to a man she’s tied to a chair, telling him that he is going to help her take the Suits down. He, we are told in the second issue — but not in the first — is a derelict amnesiac plagued with dreams of a former life of violence — in a suit of white. Is he a former Suit? In the first issue, however, we know only that he is probably the tortured narrator.
Because we don’t get to know either of these principals in the course of the book, the first issue fails on two counts: we don’t know them well enough to like them; and the mystery — who are the current incarnations of the White Suits and who are all those people being slaughtered and spurting blood, and who are their killers, exactly? — is far too cryptic to provoke the sort of curiosity that will make me buy the next issue.
To the extent that there is a completed episode (the function of which is to show us protagonists in action so we can assess their personalities), it is a five-page rampage followed by a two-page assassination—but we don’t know any of the characters, the living or the dying. The episode reveals nothing. Here are two of the five pages; we don’t know any of these people.
In short, the first issue of this title fails all the criteria I usually employ. But I bought the second issue anyhow because Cypress’ art is so spectacularly splattered willy nilly throughout. It’ll go on for another two issues, and by the end of the second, I’m starting to make sense of Frank Barbiere’s otherwise hit-and-miss narrative. So the first issue fails, but the second is beginning to redeem the title.