DECORUM #3, available from Image Comics on July 22nd, introduces Neha Nori Sood to the assassin school and its head instructor for the first and, perhaps, last time. Jonathan Hickman’s story reads like a dystopian Pygmalion, and Mike Huddleston’s art attacks your eyes like an abstract, post-modern scrapbook.
Huddleston’s cover, a woman punching a hippo-headed opponent, is weird. The trippy design of the background and the bizarre character renderings are a perfect fit for what you can expect inside. That said, I have no idea what the cover means because it has absolutely nothing to do with the story. The figure on the left looks somewhat like the school’s headmaster, but who knows. It looks cool. It’s weird. And that’s about it.
What do you do with an uncouth street rat like Neha Nori Sood? You recruit her to become a classy assassin. Hickman has assembled a world-hopping chapter in the Decorum series, where Neha is finally introduced to the Sisterhood of Man assassin school for her training with Imogen’s recommendation.
The interaction between Neha and Imogen is the highlight of the issue. Imogen establishes herself very quickly as the seasoned and refined mentor to Neha’s diamond-in-the-rough personality. The freshman introductions at the assassin school are highly amusing, and the headmaster (mistress) can stand up against the toughest of the tough foul-mouthed drill sergeants. It’s a bizarre and surreal issue that’s definitely not boring.
Huddleston’s art is an acquired taste. Nearly every page and panel is a different type of art style, which intentionally(?) imbalances the reader to the surroundings. It forces you to analyze and focus on each panel as an individual work of art. That approach may not be to everyone’s liking, and as mentioned in the intro, it feels very much like a post-modern scrapbook.
If there’s one area that seems at least somewhat off, it’s the abundance of nearly blank white pages. This appears to be a stylistic choice prevalent in other Hickman titles. Most notably the X-Men-related series. Between each chapter in the issue, you’ll have two or more blank pages with nothing more than a few symbols in one spot. That’s fine if you’re looking to re-imagine the comic version of THX-1138 (1971), but here it gets tedious and wasteful.
Huddleston’s colors are as abstract as the pencils and inks. Seemingly inconsistent from panel to panel but appropriate for the subject within each individual panel. Sometimes the colors highlight a character to express mood. Sometimes the only color is shading on a random object to draw your attention. If there’s rhyme or reason to the coloring, it’s not immediately apparent. And so, the coloring is a perfect match with the rest of the issue.
Rus Wooton’s lettering gets high marks for acting as the glue that holds this post-modern fever dream together. You can follow the dialog quickly and cleanly. The characters have distinctive voices that reflect their personalities. And the cadence and volume of the speaker’s word bubbles help to inform the relationships between the speakers, especially between Imogen and the school’s headmistress.
DECORUM #3, available from Image Comics on July 22nd, is an excellent book for its daring approach to art and visual storytelling. You’ll either love it or hate it, but you’ll certainly never be bored by it. Pick it up for something truly different.