From prolific indie writer Mark Bertolini and artist Allen Byrns (Noir City) via 215 Ink comes Broken, the tale of a child orphaned by violence, yet then taking a road wholly different from that followed by other more well-known characters who have faced similar circumstances.
The familiar set up (family leaves a movie theatre and heads into a dark, foreboding alleyway) when rendered Byrns’ stark style has a sense of uniqueness. The heavy use of black negative space, digital manipulation and drained colouring has an accomplished feel and is significant in dictating the tone of the piece.
Throughout the characters are rendered in a flat yet highly expressive style, the scratchy line work delivering moments of striking emotional clarity, while at the same time maintaining a commitment to a distinct, non-photorealistic style.
Bertolini’s script is hard-boiled; from the villains to the cops, the dialogue is sharp-edged and direct. This speeds the story from the explosive opening to the later revelations, and sets the grim tone for the piece from the outset. Despite being driven by the reflective inner monologue of the central character Quinn, a sense of mystery is still maintained, with the ultimate objective of the narrator hidden from the reader.
But this suspense plays out well, allowing the reader to become immersed in the unrelentingly brutal world painted by the creators without the distraction of an onrushing, preordained conclusion.
The characters seen in Broken are archetypes; the bad guys are predatory and amoral, and the good guys are either weak or victims, or jaded by the actions of the former. But the story demands this, and in following this path brings to mind the type of figures seen in Hong Kong action cinema who are used to illustrate the shades of grey between the moral absolutes.
One aspect that did stand out as unnecessary was the implication of an act of rape early in the story. This did nothing to advance the plot and with it effectively being the sum total involvement of the story’s single female character, it did distract from the otherwise proficient storytelling, feeling excessive and leaving an unpleasant taste.
Broken ends its first act with the promise of a rapid unravelling of all that has been built up across the issue, and the allusion to this is delivered in a manner that is satisfying rather than simply teasing. Byrns and Bertolini have produced a slice of dark, hash noir crime that will please fans of the genre, while still having room to expand into something altogether different.