Journalists

September 11, 2017

Dark Horse Reviews: Briggs Land: Lone Wolves #4

Briggs Land: Lone Wolves #4
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Vanessa R. Del Rey
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Cover: Fiona Staples

Welcome to Briggs Land, a rural expanse in upstate New York owned and zealously guarded by a family at odds with an intrusive, oppressive government authority. It is a woefully familiar setting these days, but it is that familiarity that really drives engagement with the story through the previous issues. We’ve seen these events; these people before, through the aperture of social and news media. How well do we know them, or understand their sensibilities? In issue #4, the narrative takes a bit of a departure from the tension and spectacle of a federal investigation gone wrong to tackle a personal subplot, as “outsider” Abbie Briggs wrestles with her own convictions and the preconceptions of her former associates. She has taken on the cause of personal advocate for a teenage inhabitant of the compound at great risk to them both, and their penetrating ambivalence permeates the story with melancholic anxiety and dense self examination.

I absolutely love the confidence of this team, not just in their storytelling, but also in their audience. Many panels don’t contain a single word of narration or dialogue to keep the reader on target, because the clarity and focus of the artwork speak for themselves. Because the absence of exposition is itself a tool commanded by great storytellers. Vanessa Del Rey fills in for regular artist Mack Chater in this issue, but the consistency in the transition is flawless. The coloring is oppressively dark and muted, accentuating the sense of uncertainty. Wood really jumps into the deep end of an existential crisis on multiple fronts, but doesn’t falter one bit. He never falls into the trap of dehumanizing his characters to labels for the sake of moral or ideological simplicity. People are complicated.

Considerations of loyalty, morality, motherhood and feminism considerably strengthen Abbie Briggs development in this issue. As a character who hasn’t been featured prominently in the previous books, her growth will undoubtedly factor into the looming escalation. She wasn’t born on the land and wasn’t indoctrinated with the hyper-conservative ideology fed by religious dogma and the push for sovereign citizenry. Even as a Briggs, she contends with the patriarchal theocracy through clenched teeth and fists. By her own admission, Abbie recognizes a value in the whole of Briggs Land that far exceeds the detrimental effects of the communities’ more anachronistic inclinations. This philosophy brings into sharp focus the centrist dilemma in today’s increasingly polarized America.

I’ve been a fan of Brian Wood’s Lone Wolves from the first issue. The book’s tone and pacing really stood out to me versus the popcorn sensibilities of some of the other titles I’ve come across. The team shows a reverence for the the material and for the characters that I feel is uncommon, as it lays outside the norms of theological superhero iconography or brash action bravado. They really want you to breathe in this environment and see these characters as people; not just as plot devices, but as thinking and motivated individuals. For me, the stylistic and narrative strokes have consistently impressed. Reality provides a rich context for the story that has more than maintained my interest. Lone Wolves is and likely will remain a slow burn, but I would recommend it to any seeking a grounded crime narrative that doesn’t shy away from ideological authenticity. Well done.

Christian Davenport

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