Tag Archives: Juan Useche

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Review: Sombra #4

sombra_004_spanish_press_a_mainThe cover for Sombra #4 by artist Jilipollo (Javier Medellin) sets the tone for this final chapter. A group of kids wearing bulletproof vests, each one brandishing a handgun or machine gun, appear in mid stride amidst a field of flowers and flying butterflies. The rectangular rays of a muted white and green alternate above them, as if the distant, non-visible setting sun represents the innocence of these children being lost to time. It’s a great set up for the pages inside.

Writer Justin Jordan finishes Sombra with somber and effective words, interlaced with a slew of brutally violent images that are brought to life by Raul Trevino, making sure to focus on the harsh reality of this world without looking away. Trevino confronts the reader with images that must be seen, to witness the truth. As the reporter Esteban says as he records the battle between Rojas’s cartels and Conrad’s army of child soldiers: “They need to see, everyone must see.” Danielle bears witness to it all as well, unsure of her own actions at first but quickly realizes that she – and her being a representative of America – is in the wrong; this is not her nor her country’s fight.

sombra_004_english_press7Juan Useche focuses on the colours that stand out during this hectic, brutal scene with the squirts of red from connecting bullets and knife attacks and from the faces of the various children whom wear the colour as a painted skull. The children first emerge from the shadows as black shapes, their white skulls the only parts of them visible, heightening their tragic existences and how their own selves have been stripped through a continuing use of lack of colour, especially during a few of their own deaths. Jim Campbell effectively balances his lettering by placing balloons away from certain actions, allowing for the weight to lie heavier on the visuals instead of what is being said. Campbell also spreads out Jordan’s script to slow down at the right moments, intermittent of a flood of fast-paced actions.

Sombra overall does an effective job at showing the reality being faced by those experiencing the cartels first-hand and to show those, like Danielle, certain situations are best left to be figured out, to be solved, repaired, as Esteban says in his recorded video, by the people of Mexico. In turn, the attempted involvements made by outsiders like the U.S. in witnessing this distressing scenario can make for an inwardly attempt at reform. As Rojas enters the town lead by Conrad, before the bullets fly and knives are thrust, he stops in front of a display of pure depravity: skulls, body parts, smiles smeared with blood and candles are spread out, like a reverse shrine meant to divert the visitor instead of inviting for a moment of reflection. All Rojas can say is, “This is theatre.”

Story: Justin Jordan Art: Raul Trevino Color: Juan Useche Letters: Jim Campbell
Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Boom! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Sombra #3 Reveals Its Heart of Darkness

sombra_003_english_press-3Sombra, from the very beginning, has been a tale of good and evil, light and dark, and those that believe what they are doing has a justifiable purpose in it, even if from the other side, the morals around what is being justified are highly questioned. Justin Jordan’s scripts have been doing a great job at this push and pull between right and wrong.

For instance, Danielle, the determined DEA agent, is sent on a mission she almost knows pits her as the bait. Danielle recognizes what is a justifiable right through her American upbringing and an upholder of the law. She is now face to face with her mission: Conrad Marlowe. Conrad is not only a defected DEA agent whom made it his own modus operandi to take down the cartels through very violent tactics; he is also Danielle’s father. Can Danielle overcome this familial fact in order to right a wrong she believes is ultimately doing more harm than it’s supposedly worth?

Raul Trevino’s illustrations are at their best so far in the series with this issue. The choices in panel movements are smart, placing the eye lines at the right spots to accelerate the tension during the last sequence (there is an especially haunting frame that is like a warped version of a Norman Rockwell painting), put an emphasized focus on the faces of Danielle and Conrad as he shows her around the ‘utopian’ place him and his people call home and draw attention to the innocent faces of the various children. Conrad is drawn very square, imposing and firm; one look at his full profile in a well-placed long frame, with his black shirt, green pants and military style boots acknowledges his importance and status. This very frame is unsettling due to not only Conrad’s presence but also of tiny miniature, perhaps carved, people hanging from a wrapping of green ivy, covered in bright pink flowers and next to his boots, the children that run freely, happily around, appear even smaller. Jim Campbell’s word balloon, with Jordan’s simple but effective line of “You think I’m a monster,” is the cherry on the top of this moment. Juan Useche’s colouring of the bright pink and blue sky in the background additionally act as a great, almost ironic parallel to the reality represented through Conrad’s stance.

sombra_003_english_press-6Speaking of Useche, his colouring is easily the standout attribute to this issue. The bright colours of the children’s clothing, the buildings, the spray-painted happy faces, and the open blue sky all connect with Conrad’s speech to Danielle of the new purpose he is trying to build for the people here. The brightness of the scene and use of a more vibrant colour scheme all act as masks to the supposed purity of a utopian world. Some places are utopian on the surface, only to truly survive through dystopian means (just read 1984 or Brave New World). Danielle just won’t buy any of what Conrad is trying to sell her, even after Conrad shows a warmer side to him as helps up a young girl who trips and falls. The whole sequence plays out like a PSA for some random cult. The back and forth between Conrad and Danielle ends with a great transition, just after Danielle says, “I’ve seen enough.” The brightness of day cuts to the next frame of Danielle sitting alone at night within an enclosed jail cell; the thick, black darkness tells no lies, only truths. In the world of Sombra, lies hide in the wide-open sprawl of the day, while at the night, the harsh but true reality comes to life.

Conrad’s mission, without getting too deep into spoiling the story, is contradictory. But, there is a point being made in what Jordan scripts through him. The speech Conrad makes about identifying as a monster reflects back to all Americans, as he says. The privileged and justifiable means to the laws America imposes on places like Mexico only make things worse and end up rewarding the “evil men.” Conrad believes what he has done and aims to do is justifiable, as a defected American. There is yet another parallel to what can be drawn out here through the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Whether this is intentional or not, it is interesting to note of the connections that can be drawn out here. Sombra #3 lashes out its political tongue, focusing on some relevant back and forth topics that should cause a conversation on what exactly does it mean to be in the right, committing to a so-called moral decision that has a justifiable backing to it, especially when an outsider imposes on a world they believe can be solved through questionable means.

Story: Justin Jordan Art: Raul Trevino Colours: Juan Useche Letters: Jim Campbell
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Sombra #2 Maintains Its Grim Tone With Some Personal Questions

Sombra_002_English_PRESS-5Sombra’s first issue ended with DEA agent Danielle Marlowe and local Mexico City journalist Esteban Tolva trapped under the floorboards of a church while a group of cartel members entered. Led by a man named Rojas, the cartel group knows that the two are in there and promise to lead Esteban to Danielle’s father, the former DEA agent Conrad Marlowe, whom has declared a violent war against the cartel. Trying to figure out an escape plan, Danielle and Esteban sit amongst an uncomfortable purple, blue haze of Juan Useche’s colours, starkly contrasted to the bright yellow, orange from above. Once the bullets start flying, the yellow, orange glow from above mixes with a slight tinge of pink as light streams downwards; its almost as if no matter where you are, an invading force is trying to find a way to mark its territory. This is a comic, like the colours used in this sequence, about parallels and contrasting beliefs.

This duality continues to muddle amongst the conversations Justin Jordan scripts. Assumptions can never be made in a place in which one can never really know what is exactly going on and who has control over the situation. Danielle questions the motives of a group of farmers that help her and Esteban escape, her doubt and untrustworthiness spill out, as her words don’t hold back her assumptive feelings. These farmers once had a stable farm, from the sounds of it, until the cartel, through false promises, took their claim of the land, as they have done with countless villages, and ended with their livelihood in ashes, thanks to the involvement of the DEA. Trust appears very hard to find when the supposed help being offered turns to potential turmoil, no matter who takes control of the land.

Sombra_002_English_PRESS-7Raul Trevino really shows the cartel as the all-encompassing evil, barely being able to see any texture to their faces with how much shadows are drawn overtop. It is as if he doesn’t want you to see any humanity behind their eyes. Before the grotesque moments at the village they are travelling to, a quieter moment captures one of the strongest moments of this series so far. During this travelling sequence, Trevino’s visuals speak further volumes on the words being spoken. Danielle questions the motives of Eduardo, one of the farmers, and why he is helping to protect someone whom works for an organization he doesn’t necessarily trust. But, Eduardo says he has responsibilities. It then cuts to close up frames of the three individual farmers in the truck, as Esteban tells of a story he did on their village. The frame underneath the smaller panels is a wider perspective of the road ahead of them, the trees and sky sharing the space. The land belongs to people like Eduardo and the other villagers Carlos and Arturo. They are constantly used and abused by the passing powers of the cartel. Jim Campbell places the word balloons slightly in front of their vehicle, guiding them and the story towards an unknown fate.

The creative team of Sombra has crafted an issue that improves on the introductory issue. The stakes still feel high and tense, especially with yet another cliffhanger ending, as Jordan likes to do (while he sits and laughs maniacally until the next issue drops, one would imagine). It’s great to see a title that uses the medium to ask relevant questions while maintaining its visual storytelling ability. There is one other scene worth mentioning further that contains some rather poignant words for the violent, irrational happenings around the world. As the group makes their way to a local village, a bloody display of mutilated corpses greets them. Esteban says to Danielle that this can be difficult to see for the first time. Danielle responds by saying, “This should be difficult to see every time.” Esteban says, “I wish that were so. But you can grow accustomed to anything, given time.” One can’t help but wonder whether these words are unfortunately true.

Story: Justin Jordan Art: Raul Trevino Colour: by Juan Useche
Lettering: Jim Campbell Cover: Jilipollo
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

‘Sombra’ #1 sets the plot and tone early on

Sombra_001_English_PRESS-4Justin Jordan is no stranger to stories of violence (see every Luther Strode iteration). Sombra sees Jordan crafting a tale in which the violent aspects of the Mexican cartel are not necessarily a focus of this first issue but come in small, disturbing doses. The story is of Danielle Marlowe, a DEA agent who ventures to Mexico City in search of her father, Conrad Marlowe, whom is known around by the local police and journalists as a monster from the brutal violent tactics he is using to fight with the cartel (whom also leaves a message for the DEA in a recorded video of the murdering of a fellow DEA agent). A lot is set up in this issue, with a heavy focus on plot and less on characters like the main one in Danielle, drawing from personal experiences by Mexican resident and series artist Raul Trevino.

Trevino’s art style is very photo realistic at times, drawing attention towards the fact that these places being shown actually exist. His detailed takes on the surroundings, even when it is in the background, creates a focus on the city as being not only an important aspect to the story but as a character in itself. The only slight annoyance to his pencils is the way in which he draws eyes. There are a few moments in which the awkwardly doe-eyed look of Danielle takes away the emotion of a particular panel. Beside this minor bump, Trevino additionally illustrates some well-lit scenes, playing with the shadows as light enters through the openings of blinds; the darkness represented through the cartels appears to loom throughout, even in broad daylight.

Sombra_001_English_PRESS-6Colourist Juan Useche dramatically adds a lot of character to this title. The muted browns, yellows and soft pinks, oranges contrasts well when the bright red blood of a gruesome image appears, making the violence all the more jarring. Letterer Jim Campbell does a great job at handling the heavy amount of dialogue and word balloons with the open spaces within the panels, never distracting the eye too much from the visuals.

Sombra starts off fairly well and establishes the forward momentum very early on. Instead of playing with the reader, it is nice to get the exposition and purpose stamped down nice and early. Knowing the dark, mysterious existence of the cartels looming over Danielle and the contacts she has made in Mexico City, there are sure to be a few unexpected surprises along the way to tracking down her father.

Sombra #1 (of 4)

Illustrated by Raul Trevino

Written by Justin Jordan

Coloured by Juan Useche

Lettered by Jim Campbell

Published by Boom! Studios

Story: 8 Art: 7.5 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Read

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.