I was a big fan of the late, lamented Vertigo series Coffin Hill, so when I heard that its talented scribe, Caitlin Kittredge, would be plying her trade over at Image Comics in a new ongoing (whatever that phrase even means anymore) series that was going to be well outside her usual supernatural/horror wheelhouse, I was both intrigued and excited. The artist attached to the project, , was a new name to me, but the subject matter sounded right up my alley — two twenty-somethings thrust into a web of mystery well beyond their understanding but presumably tied in with the CIA’s notorious MK-ULTRA program.
At this point, I suppose, a little bit of explanation is in order for those for whom this term is unfamiliar — in short, MK-ULTRA is real-life mind control, funded by your tax dollars. “The Company” assures us that it’s long since given up on controlling the “space between our ears” (I guess they have television and the internet for that now), but even assuming you take them at their word — which I wouldn’t — the revelations about the program that came to light during the Church Committee hearings in the late 1970s were enough to make anyone aghast: sensory deprivation, force-feeding of hallucinogenic drugs, psychosurgery, neural implants — no doubt about it, in their quest to create flesh-and-blood “Manchurian Candidates,” our intelligence “community” resorted to some truly despicable shit.
Flash ahead to 2016 and homeless San Francisco “crust punk” Dean Logan and PTSD-stricken Afghanistan vet Abby Palmer are pinned behind a car by constant gunfire. Who’s after them, why, and how they got to be in this deadly pickle are questions that Kittredge and Sanders begin answering in due course, but first Dean breaks out some honest-to-Christ super-powers to deal with things in immediate fashion. And so begins Throwaways #1.
Most of the dialogue in this issue has a reasonable air of authenticity to it, and Sanders (who not only handles the pencils and inks, but the colors, as well) has a very appealingly gritty “street-level” art style helped in no small part by some creative and dynamic panel layouts, but the sad truth is that the first few pages of this comic are the best, and it’s sort of all downhill from there. Kittredge borrows the cinematic trope of alternating scenes that take place right now with those from the (very, it seems) recent past, and honestly, even though that’s been done to death, it can still be effective — it just isn’t here. There’s one nice “holy shit!” moment involving Abby’s former CO at a vets group meeting, but apart from that and some potentially interesting dynamics on display vis-a-vis Dean’s relationship with his obviously-long-suffering girlfriend, this comic just gets duller and duller as it goes along until things wrap with a seriously lackluster cliffhanger.
I feel kinda bad, truth be told, for not liking this book more simply because it has such strong visual appeal (Rachel Deering’s DIY-influenced lettering is also worthy of note in that regard), but even at a bargain-by-today’s-standards price of $2.99, Throwaways feels like a bit of a — stifle your groan here — “throwaway” read. The premise itself has enough going for it to take things in any number of interesting directions, no question about that, but Kittredge doesn’t follow any of her own material’s juicy leads, and instead has crafted an MK-ULTRA- themed comic that even a dyed-in-the-wool “conspiracy junkie” like me can’t help but find boring. I honestly never thought I’d see the day.
All that being said, I’m not quite ready to jump ship yet. I have enough long-standing confidence in the writer and newly-discovered confidence in the artist to give this series another issue or two (although, to be honest, if it was a $3.99 book I’d probably cut tail and run right now), and if Maiko Kuzunishi’s covers continue the “simple but effective” aesthetic on display this time out, that’ll be another plus. So, yeah, Kittredge and Sanders are being thrown a rope from this reader/critic — but it’s a pretty short one. I hope they’ll both use it to pull themselves safely up on deck rather than hanging themselves with it.