Who Is Jake Ellis? #1–5 by Nathan Edmonson and Tonči Zonjić
This is an excellent modern spy/action thriller with a hint of the paranormal, which I enjoyed immensely. The first sixes pages sum up the premise excellently: we see our protagonist Jon escaping some criminal types on a boat in the first three pages; the next three pages are the exact same pages with exactly the same dialogue but this time with the addition of a man only Jon can see and hear, who is advising Jon on how to escape his predicament, warning him to duck when someone shoots at him. It’s a great piece of storytelling from both writer and artist, and it’s just one example throughout the book. The spectral man, always dressed in a black suit, black shirt and grey tie (his word balloons are white text on a dark grey background), is the Jake Ellis of the title – helps Jon by being able to see things that Jon can’t, tell him when to move to prevent being witnessed; he also has knowledge that shows he is more than capable when the going gets tough (he tells Jon how to strip and clean a gun, how to hotwire a car, the amount of time to choke a man to cause him to pass out). The only problem is that neither of them know who he is or where he came from – Jon thinks that Jake is an expression of his own mind but Jake thinks he might be something else.
In the second issue, we discover that Jon used to be a CIA analyst who was abducted and tortured in a facility by unknown assailants; when he woke up, he met Jake, who helped him escape and has helped him for the past four years to keep under the radar, to deal with criminals to survive and to make money to live. But now things have gone awry and dangerous people are after them, people with money and power who will do anything to get Jon. But Jon has Jake to help, who is smart and has a plan to find out what’s behind it all, which makes up the remainder of the story.
I haven’t read anything by Edmondson before but I’ll look out for his work again based on this taut thriller – the dialogue is sparse, no panels are filled with word balloons, the plot is clear, the two characters are interesting and the central idea is intriguing. It’s sharp, exciting, clever, hard-boiled and entertaining. What makes the book even better is the art - Zonjić is a phenomenal artist. His work makes me think of a modern Toth with a bit more European influence thrown in, with the minimal line and the great use of shadow. It’s not all dark – it just uses shading and the absence of light to great effect. The panel construction is perfect, with superb storytelling and excellent composition – Edmondson lets him strut his stuff on the page, and the combination is pitch-perfect. I highly recommend it – the trade is marked ‘Volume 1’ and the ending is open for further stories while sufficiently resolved for the narrative, so I look forward to the next volume by these creators.