Familiar Villains, Intriguing Heroes in Waid and Jones’s ‘Strange Fruit’ #1
Period piece comics can be precarious if not handled with care, but when done properly they make for inventive narratives drawing from a rich historical backdrop. Enter Strange Fruit, the upcoming Boom Studios series from the heavyweight creative team of J.G Jones and Mark Waid. Set in the fictional town of Chatterlee, Mississippi, issue #1 of Strange Fruit begins with the arrival of the Mississippi Flood of 1927, one of the most destructive natural disasters in US history. Heralding a much more significant anomaly, the flood plays as a secondary plot device to brewing racial and classist tensions in what appears to be a former plantation town.
Given the era in which the fictional town resides, the villains are customary to the setting. Ill-tempered white men (though not all the white men who appear are villains) who sometimes don white hooded cloaks and dislodge the occasional N-bomb. It can be jarring on first read, but Waid truly encapsulates the vernacular of the period, some of which is not-so-friendly to the ear or eye.
The African American representations in the book vary. Early on, we’re introduced to a sheepish, yet well-educated engineer sent by Washington DC to help with the civilian evacuations before the oncoming storm arrives. Our primary protagonist appears as a loud but quick-witted man on the run, but we don’t get to learn much more than this about his character. The third major African American character is a more mysterious figure who is only introduced in the closing pages, and all we can say about him for certain is that he'll usher in a change for Chatterlee, and take this story in the direction of science fiction.
There are multiple themes swirling around this story, but by far the most intriguing is a Biblical element. An unexpected presence and the rising of the Mississippi river are signs and portents of the Exodus variety, which evidently cannot be ignored. The pious nature of the book is even reflected in the dialogue Waid creates. Combined with the Old Testament rawness of Jones's art, there’s a visceral tone that demands to be acknowledged.
The first issue moves slower than I’d like, but understandably so; there’s much to address with this type of historical fiction. It’s not until the very end that some of the dots are connected here, and it seems to be purposely done. Strange Fruit fills me with uncertainty, but also curiosity. Perhaps that’s the beauty of it.
Check out an unlettered seven-page preview of the first issue below. Final orders for Strange Fruit #1 are due today. The comic goes on sale July 8.
Here's the first issue solicitation:
Strange Fruit #1 (of 4)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Authors: J.G. Jones & Mark Waid
Artist: J.G. Jones
Main: J.G. Jones
Jackpot Variant: J.G. Jones
10 Years: J.G. Jones
Incentive: J.G. Jones
Format: 32 pages, full color
On sale: July 8, 2015
What’s to Love: Two of the industry’s most respected and prolific creators come together for the first time in a deeply personal passion project. J.G. Jones (52, Wanted, Y: The Last Man) and Mark Waid (Irredeemable, Superman: Birthright, Kingdom Come) take on a powerful, beautifully painted story set during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Strange Fruit is a challenging, provocative examination of the heroic myth confronting the themes of racism, cultural legacy, and human nature through a literary lens, drawing from Southern folklore and tradition.
What It Is: It’s 1927 in the town of Chatterlee, Mississippi, drowned by heavy rains. The Mississippi River is rising, threatening to break open not only the levees, but also the racial and social divisions of this former plantation town. A fiery messenger from the skies heralds the appearance of a being, one that will rip open the tensions in Chatterlee. Savior or threat? It depends on where you stand. All the while, the waters are still rapidly rising…