Out this Wednesday via MonkeyBrain Comics from writer Curt Pires and artist Dalton Rose comes Theremin. Both have previously worked on high-concept independent projects of some renown in the shape of the brutal-yet-cerebral tale LP (Pires) and the epilepsy-induced Mayan war epic Sacrifice (Rose). Here they combine their talents to take on the somewhat fictionalised life, times and adventures of the very real Russian inventor, possible one-time attempted defector and gulag survivor Leo Theremin.
Kicking off proceedings with an opening caption that I doubt will be bettered in 2013, the fourteen pages comprise a riot of ideas, both visual and conceptual, with sensibilities harking back to those of both 1960s gentleman spy shows and paranoid Cold War science fiction, Pires and Rose do solid work in this initial issue in establishing the world of the titular Theremin as one rooted in historical fact but viewed through the prism of an impossible beyond-science discovery in the most unlikely of places.
With an explosive opening sequence that would not be out of place in a 1970’s Hitchcockian thriller, Theremin slips into a less intense but still absorbing, and the characterisation of the central figure is rich without resorting to drowning the reader in exposition. Refreshingly, with Leo Theremin’s inner monologue, rather than having it simply serve as the lazy plot/character driver often used in books which contain ambitious ideas but lack writers with the bravery to commit to them, Pires chooses to deepen the character in a non-traditional fashion, asserting both his focus and enigmatic genius, and exposing us literally to his inner workings.
Rose’s art, though restrained compared to the retina-battering firework displays that are his hallmark on Sacrifice, is arresting. Its claustrophobic feel when the story’s protagonist experiences the full intensity of his bizarre discovery, and the attention to stylistic details on the period clothing and elaborate experimental apparatus are two elements that delight on their own, but when used in concert sing out. A tiny, high-contrast red hammer and sickle lapel pin in a panel dominated by the severe greys and dark blues provided by the snow-filed winter sky and a so-far so-mysterious character is a particular pleasure.
Despite the rapid-fire introduction of ideas and characters, alongside its fast-cut kaleidoscopic art work, Theremin lays solid story groundwork and compelling early threads of mystery for the rest of the series. Difficult to categorise, being a heady blend of alternative history science fiction and secret agent pot-boiler, it is clear there is far more ‘behind the curtain’ here than Pires and Rose have yet revealed.
Coming from a stable that has built a rich pedigree in a short time, Theremin comfortably holds its own amongst the rest of MonkeyBrain’s excellent stable of titles, and Rose and Pires can claim to have produced one of the most impressive and inventive releases to be distributed by the company so far.
Anyone interested in checking out more of Curt Pires writing should investigate Tales to Defile, available to download free from Challenge Comics’ site