Travelling Man's Blog

Dancer by Travelling Man


Story and Script by Nathan Edmondson

Art, Colors and Design by Nic Klein

Letters by Jeff Powell

Published by Image Comics


Alan is a middle-aged American car dealer. He lives in Italy and his girlfriend Quinn is a ballerina about to become a ballet teacher. Quinn is young, vibrant, enthusiastic and full of life. Alan is older, has a heart condition and is careful, reserved where Quinn is open and forthright. She finds out why when a snatch team comes for them and Alan admits what he used to do. He’s a former CIA assassin and the company, it seems, want him dead…

Dancer is one of those books that it’s almost impossible to talk about without spoiling, because there are two ideas central to the story that it’s best to come to cold. Like all the best spy stories there’s more going on here than first appears, and it’s much more entertaining to come to that cold than have it pre-spoiled. Anyone paying attention is going to work out what’s going on pretty quickly but nonetheless, it’s worth waiting for the surprise.

That being said, there’s still a lot to talk about here, especially the continuing rise of Nathan Edmondson’s work and his seemingly single-handed decision to make spy comics popular again. As well as Who Is Jake Ellis? He’s the co-writer of the superb The Activity, a comic that fans of shows like Last Resort and The Unit should be all over like a Ranger team doing sweep and clear.

See what I did there?

This is subtly different work for him too, far more of a character piece than the action ensemble of The Activity. The similarities between Alan and the man hunting him are fascinating, and often disturbing and Edmondson goes to great pains to not only show the sort of man Alan isn’t any more but also his mortality. He’s an old man, carrying a lot of wounds and anyone expecting the traditional super-spy is going to be disappointed. Alan’s a Clooney-esque figure, a man at the wrong end of his ’40s, still vital, still in good shape but no longer sure that shape is good enough. He’s mortal, makes bad choices and picks up even more wounds along the way and Edmondson’s script is at its best when it shows how Alan has changed and is, in turn, being changed again by his situation. Edmondson also has a neat eye for contrast and symmetry, the iconography of ballet bleeding into the brutality of Alan’s running battle with his would-be assassin.

Unfortunately, Quinn is less successful and spends far too much of the book as a prize to be fought over than an actual character. She has some dramatic heavy lifting to do in the final issue but it’s very nearly too little too late. It’s a shame to see a female character reduced to little more than a damsel in distress, and the nicest thing that can be said about it is it’s in keeping with Alan’s mindset and experience to treat her this way.

Nic Klein, the artist on Viking, brings a combination of utter character focus and a painterly eye to the series and his work raises every single page to a new standard. The twin confrontations at the statue of Martin Luther in Dresden are electric, as is the brutal finale and the emotionally brutal coda. His characters are burly, large figures but somehow still desperately fragile and the closing fight in particular is utterly unforgiving. This is a world where every shot can be a kill shot and Edmondson never, ever lets us forget that. There’s artistry to the violence, even beauty, but like the ballet that underpins much of the action, in the end the characters are alone, rising and falling, living and dying based on their wits and their will and nothing else. It’s a bleak read, but if you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s utterly worthwhile.

Alasdair Stuart

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