The first issue of Simon Spurrier & Ryan Kelly’s Image title “Cry Havoc“ opens with a foreboding quote from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and a lecture on gendered power dynamics in hyena packs. It concludes with protagonist Louise “Lou” Canton at gunpoint in a cage (not a spoiler, relax), her jailor waxing philosophical while an astonishingly bearded man and a woman in a niqab look on like video game mini-bosses. There are three time periods in the story, each with its own distinct locations and colourists. There are CH47-F Chinook helicopters, exploding goats, musically-accompanied hallucinations, men with glowing eyes and a band called The Squids of Forbearance.
In the hands of most people, this array of ingredients would amount to a dog’s (or hyena’s) breakfast, but Simon Spurrier’s script cuts between London (coloured by Nick Filardi), Afghanistan (Matt Wilson), and “The Red Place” (Lee Loughridge) with the kinetic grace of an early Guy Ritchie film. The issue brims with meticulously-researched details that enhance rather than distract (check Spurrier’s page-by-page annotations at the back), and every page has something pointed to say about isolation, madness and power. No matter how crazy things get, I’m happy to go along for the ride as a reader – from busking in London to a chopper full of misfits over Afghanistan – because through it all, Lou seems just as incredulous as I am. “I think I got mugged by a werewolf,” she says at one point, and then she shrugs and goes on to play a gig at a hipster bar in Dalston, because what else are you going to do?
Even the most carefully-crafted story falls apart if the artist can’t keep up, but Ryan Kelly renders military hardware and transcendent psychedelia with crisp lines and excellent composition (compare panel layouts between London and Afghanistan scenes). Character designs are distinct without being exaggerated – even those who seem to be deliberate caricatures – and the werewolf designs are suitably monstrous, straining the edges of their containing panels with overwhelming menace.
There are a few mushy bits in Cry Havoc. In a story where men posture and women act, Lou’s unflappability sometimes reads as inertness, and her unnamed zookeeper girlfriend is rather sour for someone we might be expected to feel sorry for (or mourn?) in future issues. I really had to dig to find those gripes, though, and in the face of the many things this issue accomplishes successfully, nitpicking is pedantry. Alan Moore called Cry Havoc “weaponised folklore that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen”, and I agree.
The second issue comes out February 24th and is available for digital pre-order now.
Update: I previously stated that Cry Havoc would be a 4-issue series. As evidenced by Ryan Kelly posting inks from issue 5 on Twitter, that assertion was incorrect.