Over the past several years there have been groundbreaking works that capture the black experience, especially when it comes to confrontations with police: TV shows like When They See Us, documentaries like 13th, and novels like The Hate U Give. As a white person, works like these have been especially helpful for me to gain insight into the black experience in America and more importantly, have elevated the voices of their creators in a profound and meaningful way. Vindication feels as if it wants to do what these works do so well and capture it for a comics audience, though it falls short.
Vindication begins with the intrigue of a gritty police procedural, though that intrigue doesn’t hold up long. The book opens on a full page set in a courtroom, with main character Turn Washington being sentenced to life in prison for “what [he] did to that girl.” Page two flash forwards ten years into the future, with Turn being released from prison. It will be several more pages until we find out why—a judge overturned the conviction. Don’t worry about the details, they’re essentially moot. What follows is a convoluted plot that will struggle to hold the attention of even the most persistent reader. The twists and turns lead to an unremarkable final reveal that Turn was “framed,” sort of. A crooked cop investigating Turn, Detective Chip Christopher, is also “vindicated,” sort of. It turns out that Chip isn’t the blatant racist we’re made to assume he is at the beginning of the book, he just does shoddy work in an effort to solve cases with disregard to actual facts or evidence. All of this makes for a forgettable reading experience.
At the root of the problem is cumbersome dialogue. There is a plot here, though not one that is particularly engaging, and whatever highlights exist are buried by wasted moments and inconsequential panels. In a medium where dialogue is at a premium and words and pictures must come together for a story to unfold, Vindication’s script lapses into the throwaway dialogue of everyday life to the point of it being detrimental to the book as a whole. For example, in a panel when a character grabs their coat, the accompanying speech balloon is “One sec. I need to grab my coat.” Or when two characters walk into a bar together we get an entire panel with a single balloon of “I’m gonna find a place to sit.” Throwaway dialogue is sometimes necessary. If a character answers the phone, we expect them to say “hello.” But after that, the writing has a duty to lure readers in with active dialogue that moves the action forward. Unfortunately, it’s worth calling out in Vindication because so often the dialogue slips into this rut.
In contrast, Carlos Miko’s pencils are dependable and bring a realistic style that serves the story, though there are select panels where the story progression stalls, like when Turn confronts his brother in a bar and the art repeats itself in a string of four nearly identical panels. Thiago Goncalves’ colors are consistently great and he delivers a muted palette that adds grit to every page. But, despite the art working to save the story, it can’t quite pull off the trick. Even with well laid out panels and smart color choices, nothing can break through the script standing in the way.
Is Vindication an important comic that belongs on the shelves of libraries nationwide? No. Does comics need stories that call out racial injustice? Yes. So if you’re looking for a police procedural full of hard-boiled characters and inexplicable cat and mouse police work, this is the book for you. Just don’t expect much more beyond that shallow dive.
By MD Marie
Art by Carlos Miko
Image/Top Cow, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: M