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Advance Review: Welcome Back #1 by Christopher Sebela & Jonathan Brandon Sawyer

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Advance Review: <i>Welcome Back</i> #1 by Christopher Sebela & Jonathan Brandon Sawyer

Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist: Jonathan Brandon Sawyer
Release Date: August 19, 2015
Publisher: BOOM! Studios

I doubt writer Christopher Sebela and artist Jonathan Brandon Sawyer created Welcome Back intending to court readers with special places in their blood pumper organs for The Maxx, Sam Kieth’s quirky, brooding careermaker from the ‘90s. But, well, sometimes people do awesome stuff by accident.

That’s not to say Sebela (Captain Marvel, Ghost) retreads or mimics Kieth’s disorienting, hyper-stylized writing style. Nor does Sawyer’s art borrow the sharp angles and busy gradients. Welcome Back isn’t even a superhero book. But both series feature a breezy, yet damaged, mid-20 something protagonist and a supporting cast haunted by other inner identities. If Welcome’s protagonist Mali Quinn ever sought out the freelance social worker services of The Maxx’s Julie Winters, I imagine they’d hit it off.

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Quinn frets about student loan debt, her underwhelming career, and crappy boyfriend. She’s also bummed out because her step-dad was a serial killer before his timely demise, and a pile of letters from murder fetishishts shows up in her mailbox on a daily basis. But what kind of respectable 26-year-old doesn’t attract stalkers, rage against relative poverty and hate his or her parents?

Welcome Back #1 would be the start of a perfectly charming, angst-ridden coming of age story…were it not for all the katanas. Quinn dreams of past lives as a samurai from feudal Japan, a long-decreased FBI Agent, an expired ‘80s hitman straight from Miami Vice and countless other warrior intermissions. Eventually, she deciphers that she’s the most recent reincarnation of a badass, yet doomed, soldier/assassin who dates back to prehistoric times.

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Welcome Back Interior Pages by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer

Paradoxically, the everyday, slice-of-life aspects of the story stand out more than the blood-and-guts mayhem. In comics—or any other medium often utilized for sci-fi/fantasy/action/horror/whathaveyou—I don’t often observe circumstances or characters that resonate as relatable. However, there’s a breakup sequence in Welcome #1’s Act 1. We have all had a version of that breakup. Quinn goes to a house party in Act 2. We have all been to a version of that house party. Hopefully, Sebela’s figured out a way to keep the story relatively grounded going forward—although considering the ramifications of the twist ending, that might be asking too much.

The introduction of Quinn’s destined nemesis, known only as Tessa, sets the table for future mythology building. Some cataclysm or quantum conundrum is processing “grunts” “soldiers” and “atlases” who find themselves continually reborn and reawakened to their true natures amid different lives. This could be intended as a metaphor for the perpetual cycle of senseless violence repeated throughout the history of mankind. Or it could be an excuse for Sawyer to showcase his versatility. Or both.

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Welcome Back Interior Pages by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer

Speaking of Sawyer’s skill, globe and era-spanning flashbacks abound throughout Welcome Back. In fact, 12 occur side-by-side in a momentous splash on page 2. Kudos to the artist for illustrating the visual equivalent of a particularly complex Lost episode, thereby doing his last name proper justice.

The dialogue gets a little exposition-heavy at times, but overall, the only disappointing thing about Welcome Back is MTV’s Liquid Television isn’t still around to turn it into an animated series.

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Welcome Back Interior Pages by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer