Writer: Brian Buccellato
Artist: Toni Infante
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: May 27, 2015
The first issue of Sons of the Devil, from writer Brian Buccellato and artist Toni Infante, begins in shadows, both literally and narratively. It’s 1989, and a couple appears to be engaged in an act of kidnapping that soon turns much more violent. The story then pivots to the present day, following a young man named Travis whose nature seems equally geared toward compassion and bare-knuckle brawling. There’s more going on, however: Klay, a private investigator with whom Travis shares some history, is conducting a search into Travis’ troubled family history. With an expansive blue sky overhead and a familiar milieu of detectives, brusque police officers and a central character who instigates periodic run-ins with the proverbial law, the whole affair feels familiar—a classic California noir.
This template remains until the last few pages of the issue, when the scope of the book shifts down a slightly different byroad. That’s not to say that there’s a huge “everything you know is wrong” twist. Instead, in the span of a few pages, Buccellato’s script opens the door to a very different sort of crime story, with a much more sinister scope. Sons of the Devil #1 is an issue in which the past is a constant presence: Travis’ mysterious origins, his fraught backstory with Klay, and the actions of a mysterious man whose meeting with the detective sets the plot in motion.
Though the plot is immediately enticing, some of the characterization can feel slightly on-the-nose. Travis’ first scene reveals his good-guy charisma with the 20-something assisting a lost child, inviting the wrath of his boss when he shows up late. Buccellato’s script also plays with the “hapless underdog” archetype soon afterwards: Travis responds to his boss swiftly with violence, showcasing a very different side of his personality, as well as revealing an inherent unpredictability that runs through the rest of his interactions. It’s also an action that has consequences for Travis, which in turn establishes another subplot that links back up to another mysterious player. For establishing a number of characters and their intersecting histories, this issue is also more neatly constructed than it appears at first glance.
Toni Infante’s art aids the mood substantially, with the illustrator framing many of the panels at odd, canted angles, pronouncing the narrative’s disorientation further. The overall layouts also enter innovative territory, with a grid suddenly fragmenting, for instance. And the restrained color palette, heavy on the blues and grays, sometimes shifts into a redder register—all of which echoes the mismatched colors of Travis’ eyes. It’s a nice, subtle touch in a book that also features several less-than-subtle acts of violence.
The mysteries revealed in the debut of Sons of the Devil are the kind of plot threads that can simmer for months. In addition, the character dynamics are immediately interesting and the elements introduced at the end of the issue promise a less predictable ride than one might expect. It’s a visceral work, dynamically told, with the potential to head to some decidedly sinister, disorienting places.