If the title sounds familiar, it’s because this comic got quite a fair amount of press when it was released a year ago, but you might know about it more as “That Warren Ellis comic with the blacklight”, which is actually the best summary you could give to it. For better or worse, SVK is just what you might imagine when you hear it is a Warren Ellis comic and a superspy techno-thriller. Still, to say that Ellis writes a predictable story is doing a disservice to the comic; true, if you’ve read any of his other projects, you can guess, but Ellis has never been interested in twisting plot beats; seems (to me, at least), he’s always been more fascinated with the fictional cultures he’s creating/playing off of, and the stalwart “Ellis Protaganist” is a means to those ends. His best comics, after all, are always more about the setting than the characters, (like Transmetropolitan and Planetary). So, how does this one turn out?
Well, unfortunately, Ellis is pretty restrained in the world building, choosing to stick with a mostly only slightly exaggerated London, and limits himself to only a couple crazy scientific advancements. So, with character and setting already lost, what does SVK offer us?
Well, there’s the obvious gimmick of the blacklight, which was meant to be an innovative alternative to the now passé thought bubble. To be fair, it is rather cleverly used, giving both an in-story justification for it, and being a cogent story without needing to use it. Plus, it’s a remarkable way to imply both the suddenness and privacy of random thoughts. The design of the thing is impressive too; it’s shaped like a security card with an in-story warning and use description on the back. The actual thoughts it shows are largely (again, by necessity) unimportant, save for the final scene where it might actually change the reading of the action (it did for me anyway, as I read the comic entirely without the blacklight the first time, and then went over it again using it). Unfortunately, the fact that the device isn’t a necessity to the reading experience leads to its biggest flaw; the button (on mine, at least. I can’t speak for others) has a very tiny radius, which means you have to just about touch it to the page to read some of the words. Further, it seems as if to conserve battery in shipping, the light automatically turns off after a few seconds, regardless of the pressure on the button. Clearly, these were a way to make the price point not any more wildly expensive (I paid 10 pounds for local shipping, which is about 16 dollars), but it makes it a comic I wouldn’t want to reread using the device
As to their content in the other 90% of the comic, Ellis is able to use them for some of his trademark black humor that adds some much needed levity to the otherwise pretty grim tale.
The story itself, with the gimmick and known Ellis writing flourishes thoroughly overtalked, isn’t bad. The art, by D’Israeli, is clear and concise in storytelling, which isn’t always guaranteed in comics. All the characters have distinct designs, and he does a good job drawing in London landmarks. He’s given the burden of quite a few talking head sequences, but he does enough to move the eye over to the pertinent information.
This a fine comic, but fairly pricy. Recommended for Ellis completionists, or people that really like comics that include things in the bags.