What could Benjamin Dane want with his corner store’s entire supply of ice? The answer isn’t pretty, but then neither is the prospect of never practicing his profession again. So begins this chilling five issue mini series from Shadowline, and I’m laying down a bet right now that it’s not going to end well.
As a note, this review contains spoilers.
Written by A.J. Lieberman
Illustrated by Colin Lorimer
Human traffickers. Rogue medical teams. Yakuza run organ mills and a six year-old drug fiend. Welcome to Dr. Benjamin Dane’s nightmare. His only way out? Bring down the man who set him up by reclaiming organs already placed in some very powerful people. If Dexter, ER and 100 Bullets had a three-way and that mind blowing tryst somehow resulted in a kid, that kid would read HARVEST. Medical Grade Revenge.
Beginning in the present day and then flashing back to the series of events leading up to it, “Harvest” #1 gives us a good look at Benjamin Dane, a surgeon with some serious problems. They have to do with drugs, malpractice, and organized crime, a potent combination which seems to have landed him in the shadowy world of organ harvesting. This all comes across in a well-paced issue that goes a lot of different places considering the allotted space, and someone — miraculously — gets us on Dane’s side by the end, even though he’s a thoroughly unlikeable character. Add to all this an appropriately unsettling visual style, and the result is an engaging — and slightly nauseating — opener to the series.
A.J. Lieberman (“Cowboy Ninja Viking”, “Term Life”) makes use of an economical non-linear method of storytelling in this issue: beginning with the present day, with Dane turned into some kind of vengeful organ-reclaimer, he then backtracks to the period in which Dane lost his job, and then skips forward in time in order to trace the way in which Dane was recruited. Like I said, it’s a lot of territory to cover, but the issue doesn’t come across as over-dense or confusing. The only really mystifying element is a short scene introducing a family — a harried mother and two children. The implication seems to be that they’re Dane’s wife and kids, but Dane isn’t mentioned, and it seems like the sole purpose is to introduce the boy from the front cover, Noah. Perhaps he’s meant to hang around for a bit as a discomforting presence before he really becomes involved in the plot, but as it is the scene is a little jarring.
That said, the issue flows well from that point on. While it’s not clear what exactly has prompted Dane’s downward spiral, said downward spiral is extreme enough to keep the stakes high. Dane’s work is really the only thing he has left, and when that’s gone (he messes up an emergency surgery badly), the leap to illegitimate work is believable. The world of organ trafficking, meanwhile, comes across immediately and tangibly in a well-paced scene between the surgeon that Dane is to replace and his assisting nurse (and not only because it ends in gunshots). The terms of this sort of job are made clear: untaxed income, and an opportunity to continue “practising” without a license. If taking organs out of unsuspecting victims and putting them in to rich people who want them can be termed practising, of course.
As the story chugs ahead, Lorimer’s art lends this issue a unique visual signature. Known for his series “UXB” (running as part of “Dark Horse Presents”), Lorimer’s art style is almost the diametric opposite of “clear line”. Scritchy and laboured, with deep and sudden shadows, it’s got the unnerving effect of photorealism without being actually photorealistic. It’s the wealth of detail in every panel that does it, really selling the depth and character of each depicted space. It’s like if you pushed your nose up to a panel you might accidentally break through, and fall into a scary world indeed.
It may be this attention to detail that keeps this issue from feeling quite as compressed as other first issues for mini series; a few well-chosen elements in each panel keep us grounded in the location, keeping readerly guesswork to a minimum. A good example of this is a scene with Dane and a pair of prostitutes, some time before he loses his medical license. The scene only covers two pages — moody, shadowy ones at that — but Lorimer makes it clear through some elegantly worked in bookshelves and knickknacks that this is taking place in a big apartment as opposed to a hotel room. It hints at a little more backstory without outright explaining anything to us; it’s evident that, if that was Dane’s wife and kids in the earlier household scene, he’s already moved out of there.Continued below
The colouring in this issue is dynamic and effective. The medical scenes rely heavily on the expected antiseptic blue-greens (offset by the red of blood), but these colours retreat into the background later, acting as accents in two brown-dominated household scenes. The sum effect is a nice, oppressive atmosphere — exactly what you need for a story about taking organs out of people. On top of it all there are also some great panel layouts, with smaller panels often layered on top of one larger one. The background panel gives the feeling of “bleeding” beyond its in-the-moment purpose, giving the page a lot of presence as well as a sense of ill portent.
All told, this is a strong start to what promises to be yet another excellent miniseries from Image Comics. If you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s an engaging read, written to fit its short run well (even if that means mystifying us a little) and illustrated for maximum chills. And if you haven’t got the stomach for it, it’s probably still good. Just don’t pick it up before lunch.
Final Verdict: 8.0 — Buy