- (Image Comics, 2011; 104 pages, collects Pherone Episodes 1–4 originally published in Heavy Metal Magazine in 2007, the Pherone Pilot Episode published in limited numbers for SDCC 2005, and previously unpublished “deleted scenes” and concept art)
- Designed, drawn, and coloured by: Viktor Kalvachev
- Written by: Patrick Baggatta, Jim Sink, and Viktor Kalvachev
- Produced by: Philo Northrup
- Cover Price: $14.99 (US)
- Full Disclosure: This is a review of a press proof digital copy of the book provided by the publisher
Image Comics previously released Viktor Kalvachev’s Pherone—first published in 2007 as a serial in Heavy Metal magazine—as a hardcover collected edition in 2009. This is a review of the upcoming trade paperback edition (set to go on sale 31 August 2011 at comic book shops and booksellers everywhere and on 06 September 2011 on Amazon). I vastly prefer the trade paperback format over the hardcover myself when it comes to collected comics, not just because of the former’s lower cost, but also because of space and weight considerations (which are becoming increasingly important as the number of collected editions in my possession grows).
Pherone follows the story of Eve, a seemingly amnesiac operative for a shady intelligence agency working to uncover the details of her past, all while evading federal law enforcement, her erstwhile handlers, and assorted adversaries with all sorts of evil designs for our buxom heroine. The La Femme Nikita-meets-The Bourne Identity storyline certainly isn’t the most innovative or original yarn by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s very competently told and the dialogue is perfectly functional and entertaining. The story beats that advance the plot come along at a somewhat predictable pace but this was something that I didn’t really notice until after reading the book. Like a good action movie, I found it very easy to cast aside most of my critical concerns and just enjoy the narrative experience.
The real reason to check out this book though, is for Kalvachev’s gorgeous art and expertly honed storytelling chops. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t worked as a published comic book artist for very long (his career prior to the publication of Pherone seems to have consisted largely of working for media development company Foundation 9 Entertainment) but his level of technical skill and craft is at least at the same level as that of more celebrated industry veterans. There are shades of Frank Cho, Terry Dodson, and Stuart Immonen in his work on the human form, especially evident in his depiction of full-figured women. The Sin City influence is obvious in the stark black & white theme (no screentones!) that dominates the book, but beyond that superficial similarity, I see more of Eduardo Risso or Goran Parlov in the storytelling than Frank Miller. While scenes in the present are in black & white (with the occasional splash of colour for effect), flashback scenes are depicted in full-colour, highlighting the fractured nature of Eve’s memories.
Of note is the fact that the artwork is the result of an entirely digital process. According to Kalvachev’s website, all of his art is produced using a 9″ x 12″ Wacom tablet and Photoshop (with some Painter), yet his line work appears just as organic as that of artists working with more traditional methods. In lieu of going on and on about the art, I think it’s best that I show what to expect of the book. A picture is worth a thousand words and all that:
It’s clear that Pherone was intended to be pitched as a prospective film or television project, given how each chapter is referred to as an “episode” and how nominal editor Philo Northrup is listed in the credits as the book’s “producer.” The irony in that is taking Pherone out of the comic book medium and turning it into a movie would likely result in it being just another Salt, a competent sleeper agent-thriller film but with nothing to really recommend it ahead of other, similarly-themed material. But as a trade paperback, for your fifteen bones (a bargain, considering how much trades cost these days), you get an entertaining action/spy thriller and 104 pages of some of the best comic book art you’re bound to see this or any other year.
Very highly recommended.