Four Letter Worlds

Edited by Eric Stephenson
144 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

Love. Hate. Fear. Fate. Not the normal sort of words that jump to mind when people refer to “four letter words” In the realm of Four Letter Worlds, though, each of those words contain a multitude of possibilities, and editor Eric Stephenson has assembled a group of talented creators to each tackle just one of those words and all that it entails. The end result? An anthology that you definitely don’t want to miss.

art by Steven GriffinThe book opens with the section on Love, and in some ways this section was the biggest surprise of the anthology; while the other sections all seemed natural to be interpreted a wide number of ways, it was “Love” that seemed the narrowest of focuses but was anything but. B. Clay Moore and Steven Griffin’s “Spin” is the perfect opener to the book, a “silent” story about relationships and the passage of time. The creators have produced a quiet, carefully crafted piece that really sums up the idea of love and everything that gets touched by it in our lives. It’s an abrupt jump to the rough, in-your-face style of Jim Mahfood’s “Lust”; it’s the most predictable, but there’s a bit of charm in its crazy, over the top attitude as lust is taken to an extreme level.

“Funk” by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston is the only one that was ultimately exactly what I expected from this section, a story about someone who once was in love and now finds himself single. It’s got nice art, and Casey captures the mindset well of 23-year old Taylor, but in the end it’s far too predictable—perhaps because it is, indeed, the mindset of a 23-year old. That’s certainly not the case with Jeff Parker’s “Bear”, a story about childhood friends, and disappointments as adults, and bad mistakes. It’s absolutely not what I was expecting, a strange counterbalance of real and fantastic, and the perfect counterpoint to “Funk”.

art by Steve RolstonMy favorite Hate story has got to be Jay Faerber and Steve Rolston’s “Loud”, about a problem many people have experienced—the overly loud neighbor. What makes this story so great is the approach taken by both creators; Faerber writes a perfect balance of Gus being understandably annoyed, and merely being a big baby about the situation. It doesn’t cast Gus as a hero or a villain but merely human, and it’s easy to recognize part of ourselves in him. Roston’s art is a lot of fun, with just the right level of whimsy taken in illustrating Faerber’s script. For a story about noise, the sound effects are perfect here, from the visual confetti of the “Boom!” noises to everything that follows. “Loud” just looks great, and uses its eight-page length perfectly.

The latter is unfortunately not what happens with both “Blam!” by Robert Kirkman and Matthew Roberts and “Cool” by J. Torres and R. John Bernales. Neither are bad stories, but both suffer from being pushed into an eight-page format. “Blam!” is the sort of story that feels like a full length issue crammed into a short story, while “Cool” seems stretched out to fill its length, almost like the proverbial shaggy-dog story. Both at their core have interesting elements, but it’s a shame that “Cool” couldn’t have given up some of its space for “Blam”, at the very least. Fortunately, Hate closes out with “Junk”, where Eric Stephenson and Mike Norton show how love can turn into hate, and the things that we’ll fight over as a result. I almost wish that “Junk” had opened up the section on Hate; being next to Love in the anthology would have been a nice touch, if perhaps a bit too cynical.

Fear is, for me, the one section that doesn’t live up to its promise. Steve Lieber’s “Fell” is the high point, a great story about a trapped caver and the one person who can possibly save him. I’m just not entirely sure that it works. I liked “Fell” a great deal and want to read more stories about Wesley, but it’s not a story about fear; it focuses too much on Wesley and not enough on the person trapped for it to give you a feeling of fear. Conversely, Scott Morse’s “Mano” definitely communicates the idea of fear in Morse’s autobiographical story of creation and the possibility that each new line could be his last. This may sound crass of me, though, but I just couldn’t get into the story. I’m not entirely sure why—there’s so much honest emotion on display that I thought I’d be pulled right in, but it just fails to happen.

The remaining two stories in the Fear section both try but don’t quite work for me. Mark Ricketts and Phil Hester’s “Same” looks gorgeous, and there’s a great silent movie dystopia feel to the entire piece. The problem is, with such a short piece I never found myself able to really get into what was happening; I can admire the art, and what Ricketts was trying to achieve with the story, but like Kirkman and Roberts’s “Blam” I can’t help but think that a longer format would’ve better suited the piece. Amber Benson and Jamie McKelvie’s “Loss”, on the other hand, is an example of a story where one part is just stronger than the other. McKelvie’s art is a nice, classically clean style that is the real draw here; everything looks great, but the overly formal narration does it no favors. This is something that I ultimately think might have improved by removing the words, since with them “Loss” is too stiff, too cold to hold one’s interest.

art by Andi WatsonLast but not least is Fate, and this concluding section is the high point of Four Letter Worlds. Chynna Clugston’s “Anew” is easily the sweetest, least cynical story I remember seeing of hers. It’s a nice piece about relationships, and a clever bit of intersecting viewpoints about the same party. Clugston’s art and stylings remind me of old Audrey Hepbern movies, and in many ways “Anew” is almost like what would happen if you distilled one into just eight pages. The high quality continues with Jamie S. Rich and Andi Watson’s “True”, a story about lying, and the truths we create for ourselves. Stories where the creator talks to their audience are tricky to pull off, but Rich and Watson do it wonderfully here, thanks in no small part to the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere that’s instantly created. You almost feel like you’re at a reading by one of your favorite authors, as they create a rapport with the audience and discuss anything and everything under the sun. This is thanks to not only the smooth narration, but also Watson’s art, which as always is warm and inviting with its smooth characters and beautiful shading.

Antony Johnston and Mike Hawthorne’s “Hype” is a hysterical collision between Death and a public relations firm; something this amusing is unsurprising when you consider that Johnston and Hawthorne’s last collaboration was on the enjoyable Three Days in Europe. The lettering is unfortunately a little difficult to read, but it’s worth the effort. Last but not least, Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer’s “Fate” brings the book to a close with a disturbing story about patterns, and excuses, and telling stories, and fate itself. It’s the sort of story that you want to read through more than once, because as it comes to a conclusion you find so much more meaning to everything that’s happened up until that point. It’s a tightly written little piece and it’s got just the right tone to end the anthology on a high note.

Ultimately, Four Letter Worlds is a huge success. It’s nice to see an anthology put together where the editor has taken such care to find stories by talented creators. Even the stories that didn’t work perfectly for me all still had things to recommend them; it’s a great line-up with a little something for everyone. The next time Stephenson edits an anthology, I know I’ll be ready and waiting. It might be too much to hope for Five Letter Worlds, but whatever it is, it should be good.

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