There are some comics out there that you can only recommend with some reservations, and I’m happy to say that “Repulse” from Szymon Kudranski and Image Comics is one of them.
First of all, you should read it in one sitting. It’s 72 pages, so not a big deal.
Second of all, you should read it while on public transportation. A nice smelly bus, or a metro car with flickering fluorescent lights. With me so far?
Thirdly, you should probably be a little sleep-deprived. Trust me on this one.
The reason I preface my article with all this is that “Repulse” is not a perfect comic. It is, however, a memorable comic and an immersive one, the kind that builds a little shack in your subconscious and stays there, and that is what makes it a worthwhile and rewarding read.
In this one-shot, Kudranski (best known for his work on “Spawn”) crafts a grim science fictional world where a new investigative department has developed an unconventional method for solving crimes. A specialized and rather gutsy investigator injects the brain cells of a murder victim into his own head, and proceeds to relive the last moments of the deceased. This method, while invaluable when it comes to definitely solving crimes, tends to leave the investigator much the worse for wear, and one of its victims is our main character, police officer Sam Hagen. Another aspect of this world is there are robots — only they’re not common, and seem to be halfhearted household conveniences at best.
It’s worth noting, though, that these concepts don’t form the basis of the story, but circle around it, creating circumstances for the plot to bounce off of. The central story involves Hagen and a rash of recent murders in which the victims were all retired police officers. As Hagen tries to unravel the mystery, he finds more and more ties to an investigation he participated in a long time ago, and to the resulting disappearance of his son. And as things get ever more complex and the case seems to circle in on itself, it looks like the answer is a lot more complicated than he could have imagined.
As Hagen makes his way through the grimy (and, it seems, perpetually rainy) city, it’s Kudranski’s art — and the drippy atmosphere it evokes — that takes centre stage. Gritty, textured, and often ever-so-slightly blurred, each panel feels like a snapshot from a drunken memory. Along the way, there are some great, weathered, expressive faces, as well as some truly oppressive interiors — heavily patterned kitchens, shadowy clubs, dank offices. Sometimes the shadows take over so exuberantly that the look is more expressionist than noir, and when the images are allowed to carry the story without comment from captions or speech bubbles, the mood gets so heavy that it’s almost dizzying. This is a nightmare city and a set of nightmare circumstances, and the art makes you feel like you’re living the nightmare.
This is a morally ambiguous story to begin with, but as the mystery folds inward and seems about to resolve itself, the mood becomes even more obscure. Kudranski has set down a world where there are no real answers, and even a completed revenge plot winds up feeling empty and meaningless. It’s the emotion — raw and unrationalized — that winds up coming through stronger than anything as the story coalesces into an oddly enduring fable about the nature of loss. In that respect, “Repulse” might find a spot on your shelf next to Wiebe and Rossmo’s “Green Wake”; this is similarly dark, unsummarizable tale, and while it works on a smaller scale, it hits home with the same ferocity.
Unfortunately, “Repulse” isn’t currently in print, but you can buy a digital copy, and it is possible to track down a physical one. Either way, it’s worth a look: page-for-page and panel-for-panel, it’s not often you come across a comic this magnificently grim.