Rebels #1 is a master class in how to establish character, setting and tone within the space of a single issue, while also breathing new life into one of the medium’s most neglected genres – the war comic.
Set immediately prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the creative team of Brian Wood, Andrea Mutti and Jordie Bellaire immediately draw readers in with a version of American history far more vibrant and engaging than the standard depiction found in most high school textbooks.
In an expertly paced prologue, we’re introduced to Seth Abbott, a young Loyalist just learning to take up arms against the Redcoats in 1768 New Hampshire. In five story pages we’re introduced to Seth’s world, one based on a foundation of austere practicality and the lessons of his taciturn father. Once the thematic stage is set, we meet up with Seth and his friend Ezekiel eight years later, a mere month before war is declared. The pair does their best to quell a dispute between local farmers and regimentals, a small confrontation that acts as a precursor for larger conflicts yet to come.
Brian Wood is one of the most underrated writers in comics, consistently producing thoughtful, challenging work in the pages of DMZ, The Massive and Demo. His ability to write gripping historical fiction – a talent that served him well within the pages of his Vertigo Vikings series, Northlanders – is fully evident within the pages of Rebels.
Andrea Mutti’s art style meets where J.H. Williams, Tony Harris and Leonardo Manco’s intersect; which is to say it’s very good. His grounded renderings lend themselves to the verite aesthetic of Rebels, and the extensive research he must have undertaken to portray its period setting pays in spades. Jordie Bellaire’s coloring, meanwhile, excels at evoking the rich natural colors of the New Hampshire landscape. Her sensitive palette choices vividly portray the differences between the neutral earth tones of colonial attire and the scarlet jackets and brass buttons of the British occupation.
If this first issue of Rebels were a one-shot, it would feel like a complete, satisfying story. But with references to greater struggles and heartache to come, this revolution is only beginning. Do yourself a favor – read Rebels #1, and thank your lucky stars if you read another debut as fully realized this year.