Comics Features Reviews

“DROWSE” #1 to #3 Isn’t Your Average Crime Story

Written by Frank Verano and Nick Klinger, and edited by Kevin Ketner, DROWSE is definitely something out of the ordinary. There’s a mysterious disappearance, strange devices, and a lead character with questionable methods. On paper, I should totally love this webcomic. There are certainly a lot of interesting elements at play here in the first three chapters. Even as a fan of a good mystery though, at times I find myself a little lost.

The story unfolds in 1969 in the American town of Fairhaven, against a backdrop of political unrest. As the Vietnam War rages on, a group named The People’s Project speaks out against the government. Meanwhile, private detective Paul Caine takes on a missing person case, and the perspective alternates between these characters. For all involved in the story, there is more than initially meets the eye.

What I really like about DROWSE is this layer of complexity with its characters’ actions. The People’s Project may seem like your typical anti-establishment group, but we are only scratching the surface. One member refers to their “gift”; in another moment we see someone who is strapped to a bed being injected. The group also seems to have a mysterious link to 1930s Germany. I like that Verano and Klinger play with non-linear narrative with this flashback to deepen the mystery of the story.

Here, the team takes advantage of the webcomic format and adds an interactive element. When you click on the pages set in this era, the conversation switches between English and German. I find this a clever touch which adds a level of authenticity. The People’s Project’s true aim is as yet unclear, but the opening chapters set them up as a formidable force.

This is also true when it comes to the protagonist Caine. He blackmails another detective to take over his case, and seems to use his dog as a diversionary tactic. He also owns an abstract machine and paints some sort of mysterious symbol on a wall without explanation. All of this builds a sort of moral ambiguity around the character, and makes him an interesting lead.

Visually, DROWSE has a distinctive aesthetic. Artist Jaime Huxtable and letterer Taylor Esposito play a huge part in its retro feel. For the most part, Huxtable uses a stripped back colour scheme with neutral earth tones for the backgrounds. I find this really helps to ground the story in the past.

Huxtable uses some cool cinematic angles throughout to create memorable images. One of my highlights, which I feel adds to your understanding of the characters is at the end of #2. An overhead angle shows a large group of The People’s Party members reaching over to touch their leader at the same time. It conjures up an iconic shot from Game of Thrones episode “Mhysa” when Daenerys is treated as a saviour figure, as well as the imagery of zombie hordes. This image adds a cultlike aspect to the group.

In Chapter Two, Huxtable uses an effective pop of pink and green to grab the reader’s attention. There are creepy figures in chairs that appear to be surrounded by some sort of bubble or force field. While I really enjoy these visuals, my only issue is that the context is unclear in terms of the plot. Are these images experiments by The People’s Project or another group such as the government?

DROWSE keeps me guessing on a few counts regarding all of these mysterious machines. But I guess that’s sort of the point. In this respect, the first three chapters provide just a couple of pieces of the puzzle, a few twists of the Rubik’s Cube. I’d love to see more details about Caine from the online synopsis feature in the story. Overall, it’s a stylish start to this supernatural crime saga and I’m intrigued to see where it goes.

Do you like your stories with a side of mystery? You can check out DROWSE over at its website. Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter!

About the author

Michael Dobbinson