Title: Spread Volume 1: No Hope
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Justin Jordan
Artist: Kyle Strahm
Colorist: Felipe Sobreiro
Cover: Kyle Strahm
I find it difficult and ultimately unhelpful to classify Spread according to one genre, or even a combination of genres. To say it’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror comic is accurate, but also broad. I think to really get what Spread is, you need to read it. There’s a lot going on, but it’s a neat experience, and it has me hooked.
Though I usually talk about the story of a given comic first, I think I should discuss the art, because the story and image complement each other quite well. To open the art discussion, I need to emphasize that Spread is not for the squeamish. Artist Kyle Strahm promises in his foreword to Spread Volume 1 that the book in the reader’s hands is “pretty gross.” He writes, “I like to make a drawing so gross it makes me chuckle,” because violent and grotesque horror movies always made him grin. Strahm lives up to his promise, which is the same promise made by the cover to issue #1, also used as the cover to the first collection. A blood-spattered man with wild hair holds a bloody hatchet in one hand and a severed tendril in the other. In a harness in front of him, he carries a dead-eyed, similarly bloodstained baby holding another tendril. It tells you to expect blood and violence, and Spread has both in ample supply.
In the very first panel, blood-red monstrosities with tentacle-like appendages and too many pointy bits grow into each other. This frankly disgusting field of presumably living matter extends into the horizon. Pages 2 and 3 show us a gigantic red creature wrapped around a plane crash with all of its mouths, orifices, and dangly parts. The red matter is the Spread, a parasitic organism that rose from the ground ten years before the start of the comic. The Spread doesn’t necessarily get bigger than the “flyer” we see in that two-page gore extravaganza, but it does get nastier, if you can believe it. Eyes with teeth extend out of their sockets by the optic nerves, eyeless beasts ooze pus, and a man immediately vomits upon chopping his way out of a giant worm. The Spread’s design is truly revolting, in the best way possible.
Strahm draws human figures excellently, too. Even minor characters look distinct from each other. No, the man on the cover and a main character, looks muscled and dangerous, with a craggy face and untamed hair. “Crazy” Molly is a spindly woman with a mad stare in her wide eyes. Jack, a rotund man with a bushy red beard, has a powerful weight to him, which is never more evident than when No can’t budge him even with his strongest punches. And as gross as a fight against the Spread can be, fights between humans are brutal. Strahm knows how to make combat dynamic and visceral. Felipe Sobreiro’s colors accentuate this. The setting is a gray, dreary winter, but humans, Spread, and blood all stand out against the backgrounds. The range of the color palette provides contrast and helps toward keeping the whole thing from becoming too bleak.
I knew going into Spread that Justin Jordan is no slouch in the writing department, having read The Strange Talent of Luther Strode and most of his issues of Green Lantern: New Guardians. Though he falls back on a few tested tropes and storytelling techniques, the story and world are very interesting to me. No is a man of few words, earning the name from Molly for his frequent use of the word. He finds a baby whose bodily fluids are deadly to Spread, and he names her “Hope,” which is, of course, a bit on-the-nose. And like Saga, narration is provided by the baby when she is arbitrarily older, looking back at her life. While I’m aware Saga is hardly the first story to use such a device, it was hard for me to not draw the line between them when they’re both Image comics, and I probably wouldn’t nitpick it in a world without Saga.
The aspect of the writing I find most impressive in Spread is the world-building. It’s subtle and doesn’t hold your hand too much, but I never felt like not having enough information was detrimental to the story. It was compelling. We learn that the Spread have been around for 10 years, and the region in which the story takes place is referred to as a “Quarantine Zone.” It’s not quite clear where No, Hope, and Molly are, or the extent of the Quarantine Zone, but this doesn’t really matter to the story told in this collection. There’s an off-hand reference to “between here and Sacramento,” which means some geographic elements of the world before quarantine survived. Hope came from some sort of outside world in the crashed plane from the opening pages, but one character asserts that there is no outside world. It’s hard to tell if this is just a metaphor, or if life in “the QZ” has changed people’s beliefs about reality so radically. Either way, it struck me as an interesting line.
More generally, Spread just flows really well. The pacing is just right, it’s easy to read, and it’s suspenseful. Hope’s narration is proof she survives, but she becomes fond of reminding us that things can always get worse, because boy do things get worse. The end of issue 3 features a confluence of a few climactic moments that only lead to higher stakes in the back half of the trade. Jordan and Strahm kept raising the bet even after I thought they’d gone all-in. There’s enough deadpan humor to keep things from being completely depressing, and even if attempts at patchwork tent cities/shantytowns are sad and belie darker truths, it seems like people are surviving as best they can. Something that’s a bit refreshing about Spread is how it deals with the old “humans are the real monsters” saw. It’s not that humans are the monsters; it’s closer to humans being equally capable of monstrosity, even if they try hard not to live up to that capability.
It seems a little incongruous to call Spread “fun,” but honestly, that’s a word that comes to mind. It’s certainly entertaining, and I am immensely interested in where it’s going, because I can barely begin to predict how the story will unfold. Jordan and Strahm definitely have me on board for the next trade. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I stay for the long haul.