The Innocent

The InnocentAfter being executed for a murder he didn’t commit, New York detective Johnny Wright wakes up before an irritable angel and learns he’s been given the chance to earn another shot at life by helping other innocents. But Johnny’s desire for revenge against those who destroyed his sister and sent him to the chair may just relegate his soul to oblivion, instead.

Names are the least of this one-shot’s problems, but they’re the first you pick up on. There’s our wronged “hero,” Johnny Wright. We also meet two angels, one only ever referred to as Angel, the other named Holy White. Because Johnny’s corporeal body was cremated and he’s now made of ash, Angel decides to call him Ash. Then there’s Grave Norton, “on the brink of death.” But the best has to be Frame Burns, the villain responsible for framing Johnny. There are others: Johnny’s sister Dia, lawyer Rain Evans, and Whirl, Frame’s psychotic henchman. But seriously. Frame? To add to the awkwardness, everyone is referred to by their first names, even when you’d expect a family name (such as “the Frame family business”). Since the story is set in New York and the names are Western, this transposition makes no sense.

The names would be less distracting if there were actual character development to back them up. Instead, the dialogue and images beat the reader over the head with ineffective substitutions. Frame must be evil because his pet snakes slither about freely in his ornate office. Johnny must be an anomaly because Angel keeps freaking out about how he’s inexplicably breaking all the rules. And just because Angel gets a spontaneous, empathetic glimpse into Johnny’s memories, he now cares what happens to his charge, despite the fact that Johnny continually blows him off.

Next up, a plot-hole sampler: What’s the deal with Angel’s painful past? Why can Whirl see, hear, and touch Johnny when others can’t? What’s so special about Johnny that the rules only apply to him now and then? (He can punch a guy with his ghostly fist, but he has to have permission from on high to pick up a piece of paper?) Is the life in question the one Johnny’s just lost or his next reincarnation? Has blood been a way to kill or cure the whole time? What are the details of the different legal cases? Who or what are the powers-that-be (variously referred to as the Committee and the Council)? Random expedients do not constitute plot.

Even the professional artwork can’t save this title. Characters are attractive and easy to differentiate, but their designs aren’t particularly inspired and the two (male) angels’ androgynous bondage look seems an odd choice. The lack of variation in line-thickness means the art relies on screentone for depth, the overuse of which make the panels feel weighed down and murky.

Despite a promising premise, this supernatural thriller fails to hold together or sufficiently engage the reader, though a few bits do work. Whirl is convincingly disturbing, and the one panel where he’s played for laughs made me snicker. The first time a surprised thug finds himself fighting a righteously angry opponent he can’t see creates exciting action. And some of the moral quandaries provide genuine food for thought as the characters choose their battles and weigh the sacrifices of various means in relation to their ends. There’s a lot of story squeezed into these pages, and perhaps it would have fared better given more room in which to develop.

The Innocent is an odd group effort, which may account for a lot of its faults. First published serially in Japan, it has an American creator (Arad, film producer and former Marvel CEO), a Japanese writer (Fujisaku, anime scriptwriter and director), and a Korean artist (Ko). It sounds like a vanity project and unfortunately reads like one, an impression not improved by the back cover’s excessively glowing blurbs from Stan Lee, Sam Raimi, and Nicholas Cage (…). Occasional language and prevalent violence, with shootings and stabbings and sociopath Whirl threatening a cooing baby with the same lazily gleeful anticipation with which he dispatches a flock of birds, earn the title its suggested older teen rating.

The Innocent
by Avi Arad and Junichi Fujisaku
Art by Yasung Ko
ISBN: 9780316201032
Yen Press, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16 )