Studio 407 has been a creative studio that has been on my radar for some time. Originally meeting reps for the company in New York a few years ago, I’ve wanted to take time to read some of their titles for quite some time.
I started with Smuggling Spirits written by Ben Fisher with art by Mike Henderso and design and lettering by of Adam Markiewicz. For this review, I’m taking a look at the Studio 407 Special Convention Edition which collects, for the first time, all volumes of the series. What a perfect way to sit down and take it all in, start to finish.
Upon opening the first page, visually, I said Sin City. The look has a real film noir feel about it and presents a tone that distinguishes itself from other books right off the bat. In this story, our well worn hero, Al Stone, is trying to make his way in the roughneck world of bootleggers, frequent gunplay and living life on the edge of a world of crime. At his side, we’re introduced to Nathan, a young boy who is accompanying Al through this world. Nathan’s parents have been killed and Al has taken him on as protector and unexpected parent figure.
The friendship and father/son feel between these two is clear and, given this is more of an action/horror title, I was surprised by just how much feeling is written into their interchanges. Nathan is at that defiant age where he feels he knows best, but isn’t annoying about it. I found myself really enjoying his character and he clearly looks out for Al as best he can.
Why does he need to look out for Al? Well, the two live in a world filled with Cthulhu-esque creatures and horrors invade their life at every turn. Nathan sees the world for exactly what it is while Al sees these creatures as simply extensions of the normal bootlegging world. A crazed darkling warning them to leave is just a beggar in Al’s eye. A dragon-like flying lizard raining down fire is nothing more than a vulture to Al. Nathan deals with his friend’s limited perspective as best he can to keep them both alive.
Early on, as a reader, I was fascinated trying to determine which of the two, Al or Nathan, were actually seeing the world for what it was. This quest to determine the true perspective was a great way to pull in a new reader. This issue is sorted out at just to right moment within the story that the device is more of an introduction than an ongoing tease.
The art here is astonishingly good. The artistic approach of cloaking the stories in shadows only adds to the suspense and dark feel of the story.
The story itself has a clear beginning, middle and end, but leaves the door open for a possible sequel. I will say that I honestly enjoyed every page of this edition. It held me in the story, the action got my blood racing at just the right points and it quickly unveiled its own mythology without losing the reader in that presentation or back-story. You get just enough to put you into the middle of things, then you’re off for a ride you will enjoy taking.
Dropping this tale in the prohibition era was sheer genius as it added an extra element of cool to the story that seemed to make the action a bit more exciting and the horror a bit more creepy. There’s something to be said for the isolation of a desolate world in that earlier era that just can’t be captured as well in the modern day where help is just a cell phone call away. Here, the forests feel more isolated, the farmhouses just a little less inviting and overall my kind of horror, more mental than in your face.
I can’t give this book a higher rating or a more positive review. This is honestly one of the best things I’ve read in several weeks and stands out as an instant classic I will invite friends to try. If this is any example of the work coming out of Studio 407, they are a force to be reckoned with as this is some great comic storytelling that really takes advantage of the format to enhance an already solid narrative concept. GREAT, great work and story you should not miss.
Smuggling Spirits: Special Convention Edition
by Fisher, Henderson, Markiewicz
OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER:
For fans of HELLBOY and THE WALKING DEAD comes SMUGGLING SPIRITS! Set in an alternate vision of the Prohibition-era, SMUGGLING SPIRITS introduces Al Stone, a bootlegger who finds himself on the run from an unrelenting horde of creatures that believes he holds the key to their destruction.
Reviewed by Charlie