Writer: Kevin Joseph
Artist: D.A. Bishop
Publisher: Source Point Press
A Review by Michael Hein
Considering how much we in the comics community talk about our medium being equal parts visuals and text, and how much we assure each other that we ascribe the same value to both writers and illustrators, it should be less of a surprise when a comic comes around with little or no dialogue. Still, the “silent” comic is a rarity and a challenge. Morte will make you wonder why more comics don’t drop the speech bubbles altogether. Though there is only one word spoken in these twenty-five pages, there’s a depth and detail to this story that will remind you why you fell in love with sequential art in the first place and how powerful a still image can be.
Morte follows a young man through a single day in a city where he is apparently the last surviving human. One great feature of the silence in this book is that it spared the creators any temptation to explain or over-explain the world here. The ambiguity serves the story much better. Our hero drags a cart around the abandoned streets, examining ID cards and schedules to collect people’s remains and reunite families. Though we don’t know much about how this world came to be this way, it’s clear that everyone else in the world died suddenly–while sitting in a diner or in class, while at work or while driving a car. Everyone lays right where they died, and it appears they’ve been that way for quite a while.
As the audience observes this sad, quiet scene, we watch the protagonist observing it as well. To call his face emotionless would be a discredit to the work–Bishop has put a lot of nuance into these panels. The hero’s eyelids are almost always half-closed and ringed in red. His face changes little, yet betrays different emotions in different scenes. Sometimes he’s as sad as we are, in mourning for each face he sees. At other times he’s resigned, almost bored. He can appear numb and withdrawn as well. However, the silence doesn’t make for a lack of story, and the hero clearly has a journey to play out. He can’t get out from under the weight of his grief, but it’s clear as the book goes on that he finds things worth looking at and reasons to go on. His sadness and resignation give way to focus, clarity, and determination.
The internal journey of the hero is the substance of this book. It’s clear that from the beginning he knows what he’s doing and what he intends to do. The outside world poses very little threat to him, and nothing surprising or dangerous happens. Instead, the still, dead world that this protagonist inhabits has the power to shock him, to break his resolve, to make him want to give up, and that seems to be an even greater threat. The narrative arc he undergoes isn’t to gain something or learn something, but to hold onto something, and to survive. In the first few pages of Morte, the hero invokes the trope of the cart-pushers during the black plague, ringing their bells and calling “bring out your dead!” He starts out as a grim reaper sort of figure, calculating the carnage. It’s no spoiler to promise that by the end of the book, he’s much more than that.
Buy it!The story is strong, the art is captivating, and the whole book displays a love and mastery of comics. Morte is available for pre-order now on the Source Point Press website, and it’s expected to be published mid-November. Keep up with Kevin Joseph and D.A. Bishop on Twitter for more details.