At this point a story about the dead coming back to life is almost old hat, but you have to give credit to creators Jason Starr and Andrea Mutti for trying. Their new release, The Returning, is a familiar feeling book that leads to some unfamiliar places, to differing levels of success.
Set in the near future (if the book’s cover is any indication), The Returning #1 follows Beth Turner, recently deceased and more recently reanimated. In this world the dead don’t always stay that way, returning after NDEs (near death experiences) with their minds fractured and their impulses violent. The passenger in a fatal car crash, Beth rejoins the land of the living as a social pariah, viewed as a “Changer” likely to snap and murder at any second. To Beth her rebranding is totes not cool, as it isn’t exactly the kind of status one wants when navigating high school. Her “returning” sets various other wheels in motion, none of which play out particularly well for Beth.
Writer Starr does a nice job setting the story from the first page, dropping us into the moment when Beth first reawakens. He establishes a tense, mysterious tone that leaves us wanting to know more, and then…takes forever to tell us anything. I get the principle behind a slow burn, but here it’s like a flash of heat followed by pages of stale air. The hook of the series is that the dead are coming back to life, but very little is spent on that subject. Instead, Starr aims to make this a character piece, highlighting the effects such a world has on the ones inhabiting it. The problem is, the characters aren’t very interesting. All of them, from Beth’s overbearing Dad to her giant dick of a boyfriend, feel like cardboard cutouts, pieces used to advance the story without adding anything to it. What’s worse, Beth herself comes off as a bit boring. Sure she cries, screams, and emotes to her situations, but there’s nothing that grounds her to the book, and to that end, the reader. There’s some traumatic stuff in this issue, but without context it barely registers, serving as more mildly interesting than legitimately shocking.
I was hoping that the art would be the book’s saving grace, and to an extent it is, but overall there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. Mutti paces the book well, but there are no truly “wow” moments, which is disappointing considering the subject matter. That said, I loved her use of body expression, as often times I felt more emotion through the art than I did from the dialogue. A shocking final page aims to hook you for next issue, but there’s so little investment into the situation by that point that it falls flat.
If it seems I’m being unusually harsh on the book it’s simply because I know it can be better. It’s not a bad series by any means, but it’s also not a great one, and with many, many great books on the shelves these days it’s hard to push a decent one. There’s a story here, no doubt, so here’s hoping it’s a more engaging one when it “returns” next month.