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Comic Book Review: Stitched Volume One

Stitched #1–7
Original story by Garth Ennis
Script and art by Mike Wolfer
Colour by Digikore Studios
Published by Avatar Press

Stitched is a 17-minute short film from 2011, written and directed by Garth Ennis (view the trailer here). I have to admit I was surprised when I heard that Ennis had moved from brilliant comic book writer into the world of films; I haven’t seen the film, but I’ve been led to believe that it covers the contents of the first issue of this collection of the ongoing series. Three soldiers are the only survivors of a Blackhawk helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan, one man with a leg injury and two woman; they can’t stay where they crashed because they are in the middle of Taliban-controlled country. However, it is not the locals they have to worry about – there is something else in the mountains that is much worse than armed fighters … Something that the SAS commandos who save the American soldiers call the Stitched.

The Stitched as a concept are a soldier’s nightmare: unkillable, unstoppable, controlled by outside force, feel no pain, do not tire, do not need food or drink, they can lie in wait in perfect silence for ever. The Stitched are dressed in white, with all their orifices sewn up (hence the Stitched), who are controlled by men dressed all in black with a can containing pebbles, making a TNNK sound that becomes the harbinger of doom in the book. There is an element of the zombie idea to them but it’s a very different concept, linked to black magic and the deliberate intent to create them as weapons. I think that the idea is scarier than the actuality of the Stitched, which tends towards the gore to depict the brutal reality of unstoppable of killing machines, but it is an interesting concept that works well in contrast to the modern fighting soldier.

These seven issues seem to be the extent of the Ennis story (issue 8 sees Wolfer take over story duties, with a new artist and a different storyline), but it’s hard to work out where the line falls between who is doing what in this collection. Is it Wolfer adapting the short film and the idea for a full film that Ennis had? I’m not an expert but I’ve read a lot of Ennis books in my time, since the days of Hellblazer through Hitman and Preacher and beyond, and this doesn’t have the same rhythms and pace of an Ennis book. It is a very Ennis story and concept, and the approach to the modern soldier is right up his alley (which can be seen in such books as 303, Punisher MAX, Hitman and the like); the British soldiers in particular are classic Ennis characters, with their attitudes and dialogue. However, it doesn’t feel exactly the same as Ennis, suggesting that Wolfer is working from Ennis’ notes. This is not a bad thing, but it is something that should be highlighted if you are interested in picking up this book.

The story is a good one – the two teams of soldiers join up to help each other make it out of the mountains alive, with many Stitched in the way and the people behind the Stitched out there as well, leading to gun fights and brutal battles, as well as characterisation that means you get to know the soldiers as they go through this ordeal. Wolfer stages this very well – he is an excellent storyteller (he has been since the days of Warren Ellis’ Strange Kiss) when it comes to the combat, depicting the gruesome details with flair and clarity. The only strange aspect is the faces, which looks like he’s trying to draw likenesses of the actors in the short film for the characters in the book, something that doesn’t seem to be his strength. However, this doesn’t detract from solid art throughout the book, which creates a chilling atmosphere when needed and puts you in the heart of the action, whether you want to or not. I don’t know if this is a film adaptation or not, but it’s a good comic book with a very strong idea behind it.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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