The Revisionist #1 (review)
(Aftershock Comics, July 2016)
Writer: Frank Barbiere
Amongst the melange of themes, there is something quite 1980s about “The Revisionist”. The art is certainly very reminiscent of Walt Simonson or Trevor von Eeden when they were doing pencils for the major US publishers in the 1980s. But it is the plot and dialogue which evokes an urgent, unpolished, self-conscious eighties theme. A reader could be forgiven for thinking that the comic was set during the Reagan years and that the dialogue and art are a clever allusory mirror backdrop (a wonderful example of this was Warren Ellis and John Cassidy’s dunk into the varied period styles of Batman ranging from the 1930s to the 1990s in “Planetary/Batman. NIght on Earth”, (Wildstorm Comics, 2004)). But, disappointingly, the story is described as set in the “present day”, and the urgency and unpolished writing is happenstance.
The main character in “The Revisionist”, Martin Monroe, is a prisoner about to be released on parole. Other convicts become aware of his apparently platonic involvement with a female prison guard and accurately suspect that Monroe is a “rat”. Monroe’s early parole is assisted by Monroe’s cooperation with prison authorities in identifying illegal activities within the prison. Yet somehow the corrupt prison boss, Herschel, is not able to control any of this, and improbably allows the female prison guard to be beaten and bound, then shoots her in the head. Herschel has arranged a departure from the prison like a Bond villain, by helicopter. It does not make much sense, but the writer, Frank Barbiere, avoids this action-driven, messy plot gear by having Monroe overcome Herschel and try to escape.
Monroe runs to his cell where he recovers a cardboard box which was sent to him by his father. Upon donning a futuristic wrist band contained in the box, Monroe’s father appears to Monroe, and Monroe alone, as a disembodied head, or a blue genie, and speaks like a benign English eccentric: the character is very reminiscent of an early version of English television science fiction character Dr Who.
The cardboard box contains various devices to assist Monroe to escape, and Monroe’s father through the wristband guides him through the prison. At the end of the issue, Monroe must take a leap of faith and dive off the prison roof, where, perhaps unsurprisingly, he disappears into a bright swirling vortex.
There are strong suggestions of the motion picture “The Matrix” (Warner Bros., 1999) in this comic, with the opening lines in the dialogue being, “What would you do if you found out that reality was actually a lie? That a struggle to manipulate the very fabrid of time and space was happening right now and you never even noticed?” Monroe’s father’s navigation through the prison is as much through time as well as space, and again evokes “The Matrix” when the character Neo is endeavouring to avoid capture in the beginning of the movie and is being guided by an omniscient companion.
But the fundamental premise of the comic is borrowed from the motion picture, “The Adjustment Bureau” (Universal Pictures, 2011). The opening sequence in this comic features Monroe engaging in pistol-wielding violence, able to command machines by voice, and out to prevent reality or perhaps the time stream from being made a-kilter by killing those who would exploit it.
It is a lukewarm title which would have promise if it steered even slightly away from known movie plots and, less forgivably, tightened up the dialogue. On two occasions in this issue villains pleadfor their lives with Monroe, and it is awful:
1. “Put the gun down. I know… things! You j-just have to listen to me –”
2. “Wait! I can get you –!”
Monroe shows no mercy and executes both with a grim Clint Eastwood-chiselled set to his mouth. Other examples of tiresome cliches in the dialogue abound.
Perhaps the best part of this comic is the confrontation with Monroe’s fellow inmates. These are portrayed as genuinely dangerous men, and Monroe is plainly intimidated. Monroe exhibits a strong sense of desperation at this point in the story. It is the only juncture at which Mr Barbiere injects believable menace into the plot. The balance of the issue is poorly spent on characterisation of Monroe as a righteous gunslinger with a deeply buried heart of gold. It is a shame that Mr Barbiere did not proceed at a more measured pace. The cliches are forgivable: the shoddy dialogue is not.