Let me get this out of the way first: Manila Accounts 1081: Good Criminals Wear White #1 [Wan Mañanita, Aaron Felizmenio, Alyssa Mortega, RH Quilantang], is worth your money. It stands beside Crime Fighting Call Center Agents and Tatsulok: A Vision of Dust as one of the most promising new komik properties I’ve seen in the past two years.
That being said, there are quite a few nits I have to pick, but I think that those flaws jab at me more because the concept (or what I’ve seen of it so far) is so novel and exciting that I want the execution to match it.
But we’ll get to that later. Let’s start with the good stuff. Issue #1 has two stories, GCWW, and the Coup d’etat backup story. There isn’t as much to say about the latter, except for the fact that I love the idea of L.I.H.I.M., but I wish that Quilantang had been as rigorous with his interior artwork as he was with his cover art — the art in Coup d’etat is serviceable, but not in the same league as his beautiful line art for the cover.
The art is the most striking thing about GCWW. At its best — during the scenes focused on the thieves — the characters are expressive and rendered with personality, and the soft inks give the art an overall style that fits well with the heist genre (or maybe I’ve just been reading too much Darwyn Cooke). The choice of “camera angles” for the panels also adds a cinematic flair to the presentation–the best example of this is when the thieves leave their meeting room.
Another big plus is the setting — it’s no secret that I’m an alternative history fan, and I’m looking forward to seeing how GCWW explores the idea of a Martial Law that has an intelligence agency that trains superheroes. That hybrid nature in itself — heist + superheroes — is appealing to me, but even without that fusion, I’m itching to read a komik set in the Martial Law days. Arre’s “Martial Law Babies” aside, I don’t know of many komiks that take place in that era, much less one that mixes in speculative elements. But it’s a good choice for a komik where the protagonists are thieves–there is no other point in time, post-independence, wherein being a criminal could easily be seen as something virtuous. The use of faux newspaper articles from the period as exposition also helps underscore the historical aspect of this alternative history.
For a short comic, the issue managed to create more than its fair share of “moments”: the reveal of the heist’s target, the “they’re past curfew” scene, and the very last image, are all moments that spur a reader to talk about this comic.
Okay, now for the stuff that didn’t work for me.
While the story has its moments, the script is rather raw. There’s a certain forced quality to the dialogue that permeates many of the scenes — not bad, per se, but awkward. It’s not much of an issue in the superhero scenes — we’re used to a certain pomp and bombast amongst masks — but it hurts the scenes with the protagonists, because we expect their banter to sound like the easy and familiar jousting of old friends. The awkwardness extends to the Articles as well.
I’ve already praised the art, but while it excels in the scenes focused on the thieves, the art gets muddled during the superhero fight scenes, with some not-ideal angle and shading choices. (The one exception was the “splash” page, no pun intended.) The death scene, in particular, would have had more of an impact if it were more readily apparent what had happened, and who the parties involved were (we can’t see the face of the victim, and the attacker came from nowhere and his chevron was obscured).
Speaking of the death, I found Anthony’s reaction to that to be a bit incoherent — he seems as shocked as the others in one panel, but in the next panel he seems rather blasé about the whole thing. (“Man…”)
Finally, for a first issue, GCWW #1 doesn’t really give us a good handle on our protagonists–we know their goal, and their costume, but not their motivation, nor their backgrounds, nor their abilities, nor of any threat primarily aimed at them. We actually get a bit more of that in the free comic book day issue, but I hadn’t read that before I picked up issue #1, and I don’t think I’ll be the only one. It’s fine not to show the reader everything, but if I didn’t have a visceral reaction to “martial law oppression”, I wouldn’t care what happened to this gang of thieves.
In sum, again, Manila Accounts 1081: Good Criminals Wear White #1 is worth your money. It’s a gem, but don’t except a cut and polished diamond ready for mounting. However, even in its raw and unprocessed form, there’s something mesmerizing about it. Here’s hoping for more.