Spontaneous #1

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele
24 pages, color
Published by Oni Press

In May 2010 for Free Comic Book Day, Oni Press released the first issue of their new series The Sixth Gun, letting people get a good look at an ongoing series with a no-risk guarantee that they didn’t pay too much for it. (Second printings, released later, were normally priced.) It makes sense, then, to follow suit this year with Joe Harris and Brett Weldele’s new series Spontaneous. And while it doesn’t have quite the same bang to it that The Sixth Gun‘s opening issue did, it’s still strong enough to hopefully lure prospective new readers on board.

The initial thrust of the series, with a wannabe reporter and a guy who tracks spontaneous combustion victims teaming up to figure out the mystery behind the sudden deaths, is a strange but interesting concept. In theory it doesn’t have to stay limited to spontaneous combustion (despite the title), but all sorts of mysteries and secrets. While Melvin is at least initially locked down just a narrow path (and more on him in a moment), it’s the character of Emily Durshmiller that widens the playing field. His aggressive "investigative reporter at large" character is a bit of a mixed message; I appreciate that in many ways she’s driving the plot as well as providing a route for exposition from the experienced Melvin to the readership. And meek, quiet characters are more often than not rather boring. But there’s something about her brash personality that also grates a bit. I think it’s when teamed up with the slightly over the top nature of her reporter shtick (using the diner as an "office," the old-fashioned camera complete with accordion lens and flashbulbs, the business cards) that it just becomes a little too much. She’s not just in your face, she’s occasionally clubbing you on the side of the head with a bat, and that’s when you want her to dial it down a tad.

As for Melvin, he’s a bit of a mixture as well. One minute he’s passive and observing, the next minute he’s berating a potential assistant. It’s his observation skills that ultimately make him likable, though. His comments on what he believes goes through a "burner’s" head when they burst into flames are having Harris show us that Melvin is a smart guy, and one who’s been doing this long enough to be able to genuinely piece together a pattern. He’s not quite a strong enough foil for Emily yet—more often than not she’s walking all over him—but hopefully the cliffhanger will help temper that relationship in future issues.

I am enjoying Brett Weldele’s art, which brings a perpetual look of over-exposed film to the page. That’s a good thing; those little bursts of white and orange bring to mind the effect that Weldele uses for when someone spontaneously combusts. The limited color palette makes you feel like at any moment the characters in the comic—or the comic book itself—could burst into flames. Weldele’s characters themselves have a look not quite like anything else in comics, with their square little noses, or the way that the lines that make up their face almost seem to just contain a void that somehow solidifies into a person. His backgrounds are usually a little sparse, but he makes up for that by his coloring techniques that effortlessly distract the casual reader from even noticing.

Spontaneous #1 is overall a good debut. I think this is Harris’s strongest script to date, and his teaming with Weldele feels like a good call. When the ongoing series debuts shortly, I’m interested enough to want to see what happens with #2. All in all, another Free Comic Book Day success story for Oni Press and company.

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