First, some context.
One thing you might want to know about The One Hand before diving into reading this review is that it will have a companion series launching later this month, called The Six Fingers. From my understanding, both are crime dramas, and both will be a 5-issue miniseries from Image Comics.
For a cohesive vibe, Lee Loughridge colors both series, with Aditya Bidikar on letters for both, and Tom Muller's the designer on both. While Ram V's the writer for The One Hand and Dan Watters the writer on The Six Fingers, the two make up half of the White Noise Collective, so you can assume they're working very closely in the series' development.
If you click through on that link above, Watters claims "We’re doing something with it I’ve never seen in comics before," and Ram V shares a similar sentiment: "It is ambitious, seeking to do new things in the medium and unlike anything I've made before."
It remains to be seen if you're able to only read one miniseries on its own, or if you'll have to switch between the two, but one thing's for certain: this is a comics dream team split between two series, bringing you one visionary, bloody tale.
The obligatory summary.
It's November 5th, 2873, and detective Ari Nassar's last day on the job. But when a new murder pops up in the old style of a killer he'd already put away twice, Nassar puts retirement on pause to investigate — and put this killer behind bars once and for all.
Here's hoping the third time's the charm.
For those of you who have never read a Ram V joint, let me tell you: there's not a word or a panel wasted in his works. Everything is intentional and each scene is fine-tuned to deliver plot development, character development, or further depth on one of the themes central to the story. Well, at least two of the three of those things. He also has no interest playing in others' sandbox or retreading where so many other creators have tread before. Which is why it's fascinating reading this neo-noir.
Crime is a genre with plenty of traditions and trappings. Layer in the "noir"/"neo-noir" subgenre, and you're boxed into a pretty standard method of storytelling. After all, they call it "procedural" for a reason. So here, you have Ram V, partnering with similarly iconoclastic Dan Watters on the sister series, along with a cadre of talented creators who are likely to blow the doors off the whole damn thing.
So it's interesting to see what genre traditions the team keeps and how they turn the whole thing on its head. The look of the genre is certainly there. Hard shadows and dramatic lighting brought to you by Laurence Campbell's skilled hand feels reminiscent of Tomm Coker's style in The Black Monday Murders or Andrea Sorrentino's linework in Gideon Falls. Tom Muller's bold design work certainly feels similar to these two titles, as well. But where Gideon often carries a tone of desolation and TBMM feels like watching a particularly dark episode of Succession, The One Hand heavies up on that good ol' noir lighting. See what I'm talking about:
And can we just take a minute to talk about this page? I can't say how much of this was plotted in Ram V's script and how much of it was Campbell's vision, but this and the preceding page are how the issue opens. You have two rows, the top and the bottom, divided equally. You have six columns, some wider for longer actions or stronger importance, the smallest often going to objects that keep time and imply a rhythm: a clock, the metal ball pendulum, that old beak-dipping bird. They keep time for us and string the dialogue out a bit so we read it at the pace the creators intended.
Time and/or numbers threaten to be a potential theme in this book. Amidst the exposition and the quieter scenes, we get clocks and watches, the passcode to a briefcase. Neo Novena, the name of the city central to the story — "novena" originally meaning a nine-day prayer of imploring. The One Hand (which could also allude to timekeeping). The Six Fingers. Two past arrests over 23 years with 32 victims. It's hard not to get bogged down in details like this when you know how meticulous and deliberate Ram V is with his stories.
That's why devoting an entire page to illusions (represented here through the topic of plane crashes) feels significant, like it's setting up another central theme. You almost expect Nassar to end up with broken glasses, like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, a metaphor for how he's unable to properly see the big picture, or see things as they are. Again, we come back to the trappings of the genre! Will Ari be forced to turn his badge in later in the series, or will the creators ignore that tradition? Who will be our femme fatale?
But I digress.
Lee Loughridge slays with his color work. I'm a sucker for the juxtaposition of warm and cool colors and limited palettes and Loughridge employs both in the majority of the scenes. In fact, it's intentionally jarring when he doesn't. That's not to say the warm and cool are balanced. Loughridge knows how to define a scene, and this futuristic world's coldness demands a cooler palette with little flares of warmth. And while this palette is more artistic than realistic, it's not until you see the bright pinks that you remember this story takes place in the future. Campbell's line art certainly reinforces this: the clothing styles, the cars, the architecture — it all looks straight out of the eras you normally think of with the genre (for me, at least, that's the '20s and '50s or so). Even "Neo Novena" is the fusion of old and new. And so, we come back to the theme of time.
The worst part about The One Hand is that V's story, Campbell's art and Loughridge's colors completely upstage Aditya Bidikar's lettering. You forget to pay attention to it, wowed by the more overt characteristics of the comic, which is a shame because Bidikar's brilliant (and my favorite letterer). This book doesn't have sound effects (so far, any sound is implied by the object or action, and SFX are unnecessary), so you don't get to see his flourishes. But his balloon and caption style is gritty and organic, which is the right choice for the tone of the comic. He uses borders instead of the borderless balloons that have been gaining popularity over the years, and the choice feels right. Like it matches the more classic looks of the world.
Overall, The One Hand #1 makes for one hell of a pilot to kick off this tale. There's plenty of mystery here to hook readers and, if you were hoping for Ram V's first flop, I'm happy to say you're going to be disappointed. There's a little scene that feels intentionally odd and out of place, and I assume it'll make more sense later on. But whether it's setting up a character, or our protagonist's past, or his possible unreliability is too early to tell. Needless to say, this series feels like one that comics folk will be talking about around the virtual water cooler. It feels like one of those cultural touchpoints, like Game of Thrones or True Detective or a popular piece of media that isn't an HBO show. That means you're prooooobably going to want to buy each issue as it comes out, and not wait for the trade if you want to be part of it. Because it's not often you get a series like this.
I can maybe count them on One Hand.