There’s something magnetic about weird stories, as any Neil Gaiman or Stephen King fan will tell you. To me, the boundless possibility and tangential mental gymnastics of the weird inspires a variety of curiosity and creativity. Comic books featuring peculiar characters and elements, however, take on a unique third dimension. It isn’t simply the oddity of the subject matter. Artists add another level with the visuals. Image Comics is famous for taking chances on all varieties of comics, inviting the psychedelic to the forefront in its visuals and plots. RETCON #1 represents their most recent chance investment.

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On its surface, RETCON #1 is an openly twisted military fantasy. It follows a government branch that focuses on rooting out, eliminating, and hiding the paranormal from the public. To do this, they hire supernatural officers to act on their behalf. Featured in this issue alone are werebears, bodysnatchers, and demon-possessed superhumans. Yet below these surface details lies a conspiracy. In Matt Nixon’s fictional world, these exact events have happened before. The reader has only stepped in on the newest iteration. Now, though, something new has been added to the mix — something that will disrupt the flow of events.

Dead Djinns in the Desert

Retcon #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

RETCON #1 opens in a church basement. Veteran Chris Dodge is a relapsed alcoholic, seeking the support of his AA group and, for the first time since the service, he has decided to come clean. Chris was a part of a secret government black ops unit. Alongside a small team of soldiers, Chris sought out paranormal threats to the world and eliminated them. While these claims may seem ludicrous, he brings out picture evidence of his team grinning over the dead body of a Djinn in Iraq. The thing about secret government groups is they don’t like it when their members spill their secrets. Brandon Ross and Skinwalker, two of their top agents, are ready and waiting to kill Dodge the second he talks.

Ross, though, realizes that his superiors expect him to kill every person in the room. Anyone who heard Dodge’s story has become a liability. Knowing Skinwalker had possessed the body of one of these innocent bystanders, Ross starts a small fire to drive the rest of the people from the room out. He then tries to speak with Dodge, to convince him to come back to the agency. Dodge, mistrustful of said agency, transforms into a bear and attempts to maul Ross. Meanwhile, Skinwalker, possessing the body of a young blonde woman, has placed a bomb on the premises. As the fight escalates, Dodge presses the detonator. Dodge dies in the explosion, but Ross, carrying a powerful demon within him, survives the blast.

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Stacking Up

Retcon #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

From page one, RETCON #1 is a bonkers story. While the overall plot doesn’t break free of the typical military fantasy formula set by books like HELLBOY, there is something wholly unique in this story. I put some of this on Toby Cypress’ art. While I don’t typically gravitate toward this style of murky linework and heavily stylized anatomy, Cypress’ style really fits this story. When Chris Dodge first transforms into the werebear, it is a gross and terrifying process. For several pages, his own face hangs from his muzzle in a gangly mess. While a touch disturbing, Cypress really manages to capture the grittiness and the truly bonkers nature of this world. Meanwhile, his color scheme beautifully highlights the intended tone. While the comic carries a lot of simplistic, flat colors, Cypress delves into a heavy neon color set that exaggerates the other-worldly nature of the story.

This art style helped lighten the tone of what could have been a rather serious endeavor. In this first issue alone, Nixon presents the reader with themes of PTSD, alcoholism, and free will, but it never feels overwhelming. I think one of the reasons I attached so deeply to RETCON #1 is that it paid a great deal of respect to these serious subjects without breaking free of its semi-ludicrous tone. Where stories like HELLBOY lean on initial seriousness then poke holes in itself with moments of humor, RETCON #1 does the complete opposite. It sets a tone that this story is going to be weird and fun, but won’t be afraid to cover the points that matter.


Retcon #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

The one complaint I can aim at RETCON #1 is that it never fully delivers on its promises. While the Image website summary describes the story as “The reboot of a comic book miniseries that has never existed,” that particular storyline was never breached. Much of my knowledge of this supernatural “Groundhog Day” set-up comes from the post-narrative interview. The overall plot of the book felt rather strong. The concept of a government group quelling public knowledge of the supernatural had me hooked from the very start. Likewise, the psychedelic battle between Dodge, Ross, and Skinwalker held my interest. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that it was one of the most interesting battle sequences in comics. However, I couldn’t get past the fact that I felt duped.

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Part of me understands the narrative decision Nixon made with this issue. By focusing on this small incident and fleshing out Dodge, Skinwalker, and Ross, Nixon created a story that readers could more easily relate to. Ross narrates this entire first issue and his viewpoint helped RETCON #1 stand out. However, I never felt connected to the world that Nixon and Cypress were building. This focus on the characters makes me want to further dig into the story but without that grounded world-building, I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into. It definitely doesn’t help when 67% of the characters that we meet don’t survive this issue.

Final Thoughts About RETCON #1

RETCON #1 was a very good opening comic. While the overarching themes of government conspiracy and “retconning” were never fully explored, I got a better sense of the main cast than I do in most opening issues. Most importantly, this cast is interesting. Each has stranger gifts than most of the X-men, and the fact that a werebear takes center-stage warms my heart. So much feels new, different, and totally bonkers in RETCON #1, and I really enjoyed my time with this story. I hope Nixon takes the time to better flesh out this fantasy world, but I’m willing to stick around for a few issues until he does.

RETCON #1 is an imaginative, trippy new military fantasy from Image Comics. While some of the promised plot lines aren't fully explored in this issue, the stellar art style and interesting characters make me want to stick with this story into this future.
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