Small Gods Vol. 1: Killing Grin

Written by Jason Rand
Art by Juan E. Ferreyra
128 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

One of my favorite series of books from about fifteen years ago was Wild Cards, where super-powers had become part of every day life and everything was both the same and different at the same time. Small Gods gave me that same comfortable sort of feeling; not because the two series are the same, but because both of them are able to effortlessly take the world we live in and add in that one difference that changes everything.

One out of every one hundred people has psychic powers. The types of powers are different from one person to the next, as is the level at which the powers function. In many ways the world is still the same, but these powers have also made things a little different. Psychics like Detective Owen Young work on the police force, helping catch people in the act of performing crimes. There’s one sort of power that’s more restricted and feared above all else, though, and that’s telepathy… the power that Detective Young’s latest criminal has, and one that’s about to turn everyone’s lives upside down.

Jason Rand’s creation of the world of Small Gods hits all the right buttons for me, perhaps because he’s thought everything out carefully enough that it all makes sense. From the rise of psychic powers since 1991 in both frequency and acceptance, to the limiting of what powers can be used how in professions like law enforcement, everything fits together in such a way that you never feel like Rand is cheating the reader and declaring things to be a way for the sake of the story. Small Gods plays by a set of rules that it’s created, but the rules come across as fair. The story itself is pretty well paced, bringing Detective Young and those around him onto a terrifying and tense ride involving lies, blackmail, and paranoia. What’s nice is that just like the basic set-up of Small Gods, the actual story follows a pretty logical progression of one step to the next as Young and company explore their options and try to figure out what to do next. It’s interesting, because in some ways I found the ending a little disappointing because the final solution seemed a little too easy… but the more I looked at it, the more I appreciated what Rand did with the end of this first volume, because it’s a decision that will ultimately weigh on Young and prove to be anything but an easy answer. In many ways, it was the wrong answer for Young, and one that has consequences for himself and his own future. An ending that makes you think about morality and right-or-wrong choices? Now that’s good writing.

Juan E. Ferreyra’s art is one that runs both hot and cold with me. A lot of the time I like it; he’s got a good eye for the human body and he’s able to get a lot of the little details right, like Young’s goatee really looking like hair, or the generally beefy build that his torso has. Some of the scenes have a really good sense of drama about them with just a single image, like the drip of blood coming out of Young’s nose that in itself could be a cliche, but looks powerful and interesting under Ferrerya’s pen. At the same time, though, characters often look stiff and posed; there’s not a very good sense of movement here. And, strangely enough, the character of Jodi just always looks a little odd to me, like her proportions are all just slightly off, but it’s hard to articular just what exactly doesn’t look right. With a better sense of movement and natural poses, Ferreyra’s art will go from good to great; there’s a lot of potential here.

Small Gods Vol. 1: Killing Grin is a fun introduction into Rand and Ferreyra’s series. It’s a good first case to see in that it introduces us not only to the cast but to the world of the series as well. I look forward to seeing the ramifications of this story and how they play out in future installments, and it’s a nice addition to the Image line. I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open for more Small Gods.

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