(Icon/Marvel Comics, 2014)
Written by Jason Aaron
Artwork by Ron Garney
Color Artwork by Matt Milla
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Jason Aaron has never been one to shy away from violent subject matter and he certainly brings the brutality with his new series Men of Wrath from Marvels Icon imprint. Just two issues into the narrative and already this series rivals Aaron’s Image title Southern Bastards for family dysfunction and downright nastiness. Also set in the Deep South, Men of Wrath introduces us to the Rath family via the living embodiment of meanness, Ira Rath, a man without a soul completely devoid of compassion unable to relate to another human being by way of anything other than violence including his own son Ruben.
Aaron has expressed an affinity for the works of Cormac McCarthy and certainly that is evident in his own work especially in Southern Bastards and here in Men of Wrath but the similarities go beyond the graphic brutality and run deep into the southern themes that form the beating broken hearts of these books. The characters that populate the pages of Men of Wrath are much more than merciless violent archetypes, they are complex explorations of a long standing paradigm that has come to represent the very worst the south has to offer. Imagine Faulkner and Tarantino joined in a Vulcan mind meld and you can come close to the tonal quality Aaron has achieved in this hard edged series, its more than noir or crime fiction it’s an indictment of an outdated ideal held up by a racist redneck demographic and Aaron rips it apart like Sherman on his march to the sea. Ira’s son Ruben is perhaps the one character worthy of sympathy that is until he takes up the Rath mantle and proves himself just as reprehensible as his murderous father. He is a man painted into a corner and forced to resort to crime to take care of his pregnant girlfriend but any compassion Aaron may have established on behalf of the younger Rath is just as quickly obliterated by his deplorable actions.
The violence in this series knows no bounds, the recipients of a brutal death include babies and animals, and in the world of Men of Wrath no one is innocent. In fact innocence appears to hold no value in this barren emotional wasteland. Thus far Aaron has done an extremely detailed job of exploring the familial breakdown that has resulted in generations of murderous criminality and dysfunction beyond belief but what I am really looking forward to in the coming issues is the development of the deeper story surrounding this family of malcontents. Jason Aaron is one of my absolute favorite writers in comic books today. He brings a gritty realism to his non-super hero work that rivals the best of the best in works like Scalped but he also maintains a bit of that gritty style and tone in his Wolverine and Punisher stories.
Aaron teams up once again with his Ultimate Captain America, Wolverine and Thor Collaborator, Ron Garney to the usual stunning results. Garney is a master of setting a scene; his use of panel placement is impeccable and adds a real cinematic sensibility to his page compositions. Garney is a consummate professional; his experience as a penciller, inker and even writer gives him a deeper insight to crafting effective pages and elevates his storytelling to the next level. This is a tried and true creative collaboration that continues to raise the bar with each new work.
Men of Wrath is certainly not for everyone, the graphic violence alone would turn off many would be readers but if you have the intestinal fortitude to get past that you will be rewarded with one heck of a poignant, heartbreaking story. Visually the storytelling and imagery is gorgeous, the pace is brisk while never glossing over details. Aaron and Garney have carved out a place for themselves in the upper echelon of comic book creators and in my opinion they certainly deserve to be there. (4/5)
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.