In “Beautiful Canvas” #2, writer Ryan K Lindsay and illustrator Sami Kivela continue to weave a trippy, dream-like story that plays by its own rules. For now, the gorgeous artwork and compelling characters are more than enough to keep us turning pages, but after two full chapters that essentially keep planting seeds and raising more questions, the book stands at a crossroads that may define its overall success.
Written by: Ryan K Lindsay
Illustrated by: Sami Kivela
Colored by: Triona Farrell
Lettered by: Ryan Ferrier
All things converge on Alex Ellroy, as Lon Eisley wonders if maybe she was supposed to kill this small child after all. A mindreader walks through Alex’s very messy issues, a rich villain wants to manipulate his new abilities, and an unhinged ex-government agent just wants to talk. All while a city prepares to burn. Lindsay & Kivela bring you a gonzo dystopian tale of brutal parenting, fragile dreamscapes, and warped relationships.
To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what’s going on in “Beautiful Canvas,” but so far, I like it that way. In fact, that’s a major part of the attraction. Two issues in, “Beautiful Canvas” is the kind of genre-busting, can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it story that isn’t an easy read, but looks and feels like it’ll be worth it. In a world of gimmicky, “high concept” narratives that often feel slapped together purely for the sake of creating killer solicit copy that breaks through the clutter, but then fail to deliver, this book raises its hand and says, “Follow me. I’ll take you on a journey.”
At it’s core, the central problem is simple (as quickly established in the first issue): a deeply conflicted hit woman (Lon Eisley) couldn’t quite pull the trigger – literally – absconding with her target instead, setting the plot in motion.
It certainly didn’t help that the target is a boy (Alex) who – after seeing his mother shot and killed – hugged Lon’s legs and thanked her.
It further complicates matters that Lon’s partner, Asia Benchley, is pregnant. Oh, and Asia happens to be a psychic and their relationship is strained (naturally). And sometimes Alex’s hands spontaneously burst into flames (as well as those of another character who ends up teaming with Lon and Asia at the end of this issue). There’s also some crazy toothpaste that gives one guy superhuman mental prowess and the ability to see – what? – the internet of the future? Not to mention wave after wave of would-be assassins (including a truckload of aliens in the first issue) that Lon quickly dispatches with the ruthless efficiency, oh, and a billionaire mastermind (Milla Albuquerque ) who thinks murder and mutilation are art.
The obvious problem, to the extent that there is one, is that everything feels a bit on the verge of spinning out of control. As the narrative continues to sprawl and new threads are introduced, you can’t help but wonder if some of those new strands will ultimately turn into loose ends.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of eye candy. Actually, that’s not fair. The artwork is ridiculously stylish (as befitting of the book’s title) with clean, contemporary lines and a color palette that rocks, but it’s never indulgent or extraneous.
Sami Kivella’s lines are uncluttered and efficient, with paneling and compositions that are absolutely on point. The story flows seamlessly from wide, establishing scenes that root us nicely in time and place, to close-ups and extreme close-ups that immediately convey clear emotions. The opening and closing scenes are especially well rendered, bookending the issue perfectly, but there are excellent, detail-filled beats throughout. Asia’s eyes reflected in her would-be killer’s gold visor, the full-page battle scene with several small inset panels, and the various close-ups of Milla Albuquerque’s eyes are just a few examples of numerous noteworthy moments that beg you to linger.
The color palette, too, has an equally contemporary flair. The colors are bold and decisive – expertly mixing and intercutting various warm and cool tones – without ever being garish or obnoxious. They have a futuristic, often neon-tinged flavor, without feeling predictable or routine. This is a glitzy, high tech future, but it’s not all steel, glass and plastic. There are subtle earth tones and textures (not to mention the ice cream treat) that keep us grounded in a very relatable, recognizable world.Continued below
The only visual element that I’m not particularly keen on, and I’m not sure if this is driven by the writing, inks, or lettering, is the occasional use of sub-heads that signify scene breaks, such as “Asia Benchley Stars in the Tower and the Inferno” and “Lon Eisley Stars in What Do You Get the Lady Who Wanted Nothing More?” Mechanically, it gives us a bit of a break to mentally shift gears and launch into the following scene, but at the same time I find it a bit unnecessary and even distracting. Elsewhere, letterer Ryan Ferrier does a brilliant job with an overlapping conversation, so from that standpoint all is forgiven.
So where does all of this leave us? Certainly, “Beautiful Canvas” swings for the bleachers (as Lindsay notes in the backmatter). To continue his metaphor, it’s way too early in the pitch count to know if this will be a home run, a strike out, or something else entirely, but Lindsay, Kivela and the rest of the team are clearly going to keep on swinging.
“Art is about accepting chaos,” says Milla Albuquerque from the pilot’s seat of her helicopter while hovering above the city, adding moments later, “The uncertainty is just as beautiful as the outcome. The possibilities form a swirling array of realities.” Lindsay and Kivela have packed the first two chapters full of numerous possibilities and narrative threads. It’s way too early, of course, to think about tying up loose ends, but it is probably time to start weaving some of them a little more tightly together. The ideas are all there. The brainstorming session is over. Time to let the narrative take over.