"But what about the lady on the road?" - Jessie Barrot
David Barrot is a bloke with a few too many things on his mind to sleep well at night. He has left his job as a prison guard due to murdering a prisoner who had previously been convicted over the death of David's seven year old son Cale in a kidnapping caper gone wrong. Having moved to Grey Oaks with his pregnant wife Lucy and daughter Jessie, David is expecting some rural peace and quiet, he's in for a bit of a shock.
It starts with bugs and spiders having similar red markings, probably not a good thing given nature, revs up with a local Sect going biblical and a farm being quarantined due to some sort of outbreak of mad pig disease, before finally hitting top gear with animals going psycho. Oh and it would seem that we also have some nefarious group doing something shady in the hinterland, a zombie outbreak, and to round things out cannibals. When Grey Oaks goes up in flames David decides to get out of dodge with his family. This is going to prove more difficult than expected.
Changing Ways Book 1 won an armload of awards through 2010 as Critics, Judges, and Reviewers alike went absolutely apeshit over the plot, artwork, and general professional nature of the release. This pretty much makes the publication review proof, if you want to say something bad about the book then you are flying in the face of consistent public opinion. While I'm pretty much going to join the mob in praising Changing Ways there is one aspect of the publication I found fault with.
Art wise, and the book is worth picking up simply on the art alone, Justin Randall simply drips sensational panels our way throughout the book. There's a general sepia look to things, rather than a cartoonish approach. Randall is after a more realistic look, and overall the colours tend to blend into each other rather than showing sharp divergence from each other. Randall leaves a surprisingly number of his panel dark at the edges, which has the effect of heightening the tension laced journey you are going on and dragging you into the content each panel presents. To say that Randall simply illustrates his script would be akin to saying Michelangelo did some ceiling painting on the odd chapel, both incorrect and highly inaccurate. Each panel of this surprisingly long release is a work of art that demands attention and approval. Even my Wife, a professional artist who as regular readers will know spends very little time in the dark genre, was held spellbound by the share energy and ideas Randall throws our way in Changing Ways. I don't mention this often, but Justin Randall is one comic artist that deserves an exhibition in his own right.
I guess I would describe Randall's style, for the Artistic amongst us, as a surreal nightmare that adds the realism to Monet's extravagant flourishes. Changing Ways is a nightmarish world where nothing can be considered to be what it should be, Randall captures that element, hog ties and brands it.
Final point on the outstanding artwork, Grey Oaks is perpetually one minute after midnight, and the rainfall just never lets up. Either we're talking end of times or the environment is reflecting the current state of David Barrot's mental breakdown.
As a script writer Justin Randall comes at you with both barrels smoking. There's a tonne of ideas being thrown at the reader and here is the only problem I found with the book, the plot is somewhat convoluted with the pace throwing up lots of details and very little in the way of explanation. It's like you have arrived in the middle of a movie and the projectionist then forgets to show the final act.
While things start bizarrely enough, David Barrot and daughter investigating moths with weird red markings, in fact similar to the markings David himself and his wife can show off, things romp up with the attack of the next door neighbour's dog. Clearly the animal is psychotic, and it's not alone. As things escalate out of control we have farm pigs gone feral, occultists, and what would appear to be zombies, or at least the re-animated dead. And to finally round out the meal we get cannibals, or they could be the re-animated dead, or they could be zombies. We still have no idea if the happenings in Grey Oaks reflect World Wide events or are an isolated outbreak of chaos.
I would imagine that we'll get some answers to what's going down in subsequent books, though it has to be said movies like Night of the Living Dead are very prone to not explaining the "why", so I may be slightly premature in criticising Changing Ways on the strength of the plot through the first book. Fingers crossed we get the next book sooner rather than later as answers are at a premium thus far.
I grooved to the artwork and general aesthetic of Changing Ways and am sweating on the release of the second book in the series. Justin Randall has me rocking with his plot and I'm ready to go another round at the side of David Barrot and his family. A highly recommended release, the Critics for once got it completely right, this is the sort of release that makes it a pleasure to review.
Changing Ways is available from Gestalt Comics and although we are talking a fairly hefty $30 AUD for the book you get 128 pages of full colour in a superbly put together package. Further information can be sourced via the official book site, including alternative international Distributors, or via David Barrot's online journal. Now that should be enough to keep you occupied through the coming week.