Updated: Jan 26
Writer: Ben Goldsmith
Creators: Travis Mercer
Publisher: Mad Cave Studios
WHAT IS IT?
It’s Black Widow on the run from a cult, with a Kill Bill sensibility.
Are you a fan of action, intrigue, and heads sliced like melons? Interested in shadowy cult-like cabals? Perhaps, like me, are you the sort who enjoys counting bloodied strawberries on a splash page looking for symbolic clues?
If any of those is true, then spy/action thriller RV9 has you covered.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
These first two issues introduce us to Velveteen, abducted when she was only a child by a shadowy organization known as the “Order of the 9” (think DC’s League of Assassins).
Volta, the leader of that group, trained her as a spy and killer so she could help in the Order’s goal of starting a revolution and realizing his dream of instituting “true order.”
Now an adult, Velveteen is on the run from that society and is using the skills in subterfuge and assassination that they taught her to survive and thwart their plans.
The first issue introduces us to a lot of characters, but still gives each of them a reasonable amount of development time and a distinct feel. There are a lot of questions unanswered (it is a #1 after all) but the relationships and conflicts of the characters are well established.
Issue two does a nice job of starting to clear up the mysteries presented in #1, and I think that was needed. There are still a lot of things to be revealed, but by the end of the second issue, you know where you stand with most of the major characters.
The story is driven almost entirely by action and dialogue balloons. Goldsmith does not use any thought bubbles or omniscient narration boxes at all in the first issue. The only captions are time and location information. This puts more pressure on the art, but Travis Mercer and company are up to the task, giving the book a cinematic feel that I really like.
This focus on dialogue and action continues in issue #2. There is only one scene where we are invited into Velveteen’s thoughts, and its important enough that this exception works perfectly to accentuate the moment, what it means, and how personal it is for her.
The art, by Mercer and Miguel Angel Zapata, is clean and effective. Pages are not too cluttered, and although Mercer does overlap images and panels regularly, he does so in a way that works and flows easily.
Mercer often favors panel layouts that are horizontal-ish, but which fan out like playing cards down the page. They even stack, overlap, and occasionally topple behind panels that have no borders at all. It sounds confusing, but in practice, it works well and gives his art and the book a distinctive look.
Colorist Maria Santaolalla did a great job of bringing the line art to life. I especially liked her work on a flashback scene in issue #1, where the art is misty and almost liquid. In a story that flows back and forth in time and memory, Santaolalla’s colors help provide visual clues and set the mood perfectly.
Justin Birch’s lettering is excellent, in that it does what lettering should to. His word balloons and sound effects disappear into the action and story. Things flow well from panel to panel; the story reads well, and the text is easy to understand and follow. You only notice the lettering when you stop to think about it, but when you do it’s a thing of subtle beauty.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
A blurb tells us this story is set in 2055, but the architecture, clothes and even technology all have a very present-day look. It is only two issues in, but so far this is a story that could easily be set in 2019. Hopefully, future issues will expand more on why we are forty years in the future, and why that matters.
There is a scene in issue #1 where a couple is at the opera. She is sitting on his left. Then when you turn the page, she is on his right. Sure, operas are long and maybe they just switched places at intermission. It’s not a Starbucks cup at Winterfell, but this was a scene where important things happened, and I was taken out of it a bit as my brain was rearranging chairs.
What or who is RV9, you ask? No idea.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
If you are a fan of Bourne Identity spy thriller type stories, or just need a bit of mayhem from a redheaded international assassin to tide you over until the Black Widow movie comes out, then RV9 won’t disappoint.
It feels like there is a solid story base for the characters and situations that power the central conflict, and the first issues of RV9 set in motion some mysteries (Nine Books of Knowledge, the True Order) that give the series room to grow.
It’s well-written, well-drawn, and everything about it seems like it was made with care and well-crafted.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Séance Room by Ben Goldsmith & Keyla Valerio
Queen & Country by Greg Rucka & Steve Rolston
Black Widow, Vol. 1: SHIELD's Most Wanted by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee
If you like the art:
RV9 #3 by Ben Goldsmith & Travis Mercer
Fables by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham
Folklords by Matt Kindt & Matt Smith
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Ben Goldsmith – Writer
Multitalented – Also a professional musician
Runs his own haunted AirBnB at weissmanor.com (or it could be just the website for his previous book The Séance Room).
For a bit more about Ben and RV9, check out his Mad Cave Writer Spotlight
Travis Mercer – Penciller
New Face: This is his first book for Mad Cave
Miguel Angel Zapata – Inker
Multitalented: Serves as Mad Cave Studios’ Design Director
Outlander: From Bogota, Colombia
Maria Santaolalla – Colorist
Outlander: Lives in France
Multitalented: Enjoys writing and has a degree in Tourism
Justin Birch – Letterer
New Face: Though he's only been lettering comics a short time, he's already been nominated for a Ringo Award and has worked for Action Lab, AndWorld Design, Broken Icon, IDW, Lion Forge & Source Point Press
Accessibility Oriented: Known for his association with Broken Icon, and a powerful concern for readability over all else.
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