Just like Alice followed the white rabbit down to wonderland, we again return to Ethan Reckless, as a case cascades him down to hell in the new graphic novel, Follow Me Down. While in pursuit of a woman named Rachel, the latest book in the Reckless series by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Jacob Phillips, asks us to interrogate how far we have fallen, and what we can never quite let go of. It’s a book that places a sharp contrast between its internal cathartic moment, and the expectations created by the rest of the series. What happens to our emotionally numb anti-hero’s outlook on life when he’s not so numb? And is that numbness a blessing in disguise?
Follow Me Down is a subtle and welcome break in the established Reckless formula, presenting a philosophical counterweight to what we’ve come to know about Ethan. While each entry in Reckless is stand alone, designed to be read in any order, Follow Me Down is a companion to The Ghost In You, chronicling Ethan’s adventures that ran concurrent with Anna’s in the previous book. In that respect, these two stories read together enhance each other by providing us a depiction of Ethan as a constant force of nature, at peace with the karmic cycle of life that brings us to wherever we may end up, juxtaposed with an Ethan who can ‘t seem to find peace, roped into an escalating series of circumstances that chips away at the barrier between him and his emotions.
Age numbs all feelings, time heals all wounds, nothing lasts forever, etc. etc. etc… We tell ourselves these truisms, that age and time and distance allows us all to gradually move past the things that hurt us, but do we ever feel like they stop defining us? Perhaps the pain of a lost love is no longer as sharp, but do you outgrow the lessons it taught you or the fears it’s left you with? Follow Me Down presents the most personal and emotionally in touch Ethan we’ve seen this far, with respect to these questions about healing from trauma.
The Reckless series is framed around a nebulous future Ethan, writing about his adventures in hindsight and providing us emotional clarity that would not be evident in the moment. The power of Reckless has been in seeing truly difficult, harrowing adventures that test our faith in humanity while being given a sense of peace by a distant narrator who sees where all the dominos fall and can provide reassurance in the midst of distress. Follow Me Down breaks this formula, from the very beginning with its cold open, all the way down to the last 20 pages that give us a look at an Ethan that still hasn’t figured it all out and continues to search for answers
Seeing this version of Ethan while at the same time understanding Anna’s fate and emotional history from The Ghost in You paints a bleak picture of human loneliness. In the previous book, Ethan was a character that argued that adversity made us who we are, and that we find peace in our worst moments by accepting that they created the person we are today.
Understanding this from Anna’s perspective is reassuring in the moment but hangs in the air with a sense of foreboding knowing what we do now. It introduces a melancholic existential question about just how much suffering it takes to find ourselves and how uneasy Ethan’s own process of accepting loss has been. One can’t help but feel hurt by seeing someone who usually gifts us with a Zen platitude about peace in such a conflicted state, never quite getting that peace for himself.
The characters in this series have always felt alive but here we reunite them with such discomfort that every page turn feels like a gut punch. For once, Ethan isn’t tying up all loose ends with a neat bow, leaving us some calming last words. Now it’s entirely up to us to figure out the best way to move on from this tale of inhumanity, and it’s more difficult here than it’s ever been.
In Friend of the Devil, we find Ethan after his father has died and he’s buried himself in nostalgia. Then in Destroy All Monsters, Ethan emotionally prepares for losing his best friend, Anna. In both cases, the future Ethan recounting these adventures reminds us that the virtue of age is that all things eventually pass, even grief. And as these books presented us with more and more bleak encounters, these words became a lifeline to the reader, a comforting mantra.
And yet here we have an Ethan that, for once, doesn’t seem to have gotten to a point where all is healed, where grief has passed him by. Instead we’re left with the debris of this tortured love-affair that’s left Ethan in a state of aimlessness. Was he right? Do all things eventually pass? Or are there some pains, some little deaths, that never quite leave us?
Follow Me Down opens with an explosive depiction of violence, where Jacob Phillps’ colors enhance the sense of disruption we feel to the usual Reckless story structure. We aren’t greeted on the first page by Ethan, by our usual narrative structure. Instead we are awash with blues and dull brown colors, a scene that captures the daze of a life lived with no purpose. This scene is then immediately interrupted with an explosive gun shot, captured with such intensity that the book tells us immediately “this isn’t just another Reckless story. “
As always, Jacob Phillips’ colorwork here is crucial in setting up our relationship to the existential themes of this series. Reckless books as we have seen so far tend to have a fairly clear color-coding where flashbacks are painted over with warm pinks, yellows and oranges, often depicted by artist Sean Phillips as a single splash page which allows the events to feel folded together, like all our memories are happening all at once.
These warm colors are then converted into an investigative scene where Ethan is usually always presented traveling, searching or musing in some world that permanently exists in a state of either pre-dawn, sunset, or the dead of night. The sun rarely shines in a Reckless book for more than the occasional one-off page or panel.
This consistency is especially helpful in Follow Me Down because it becomes a new emotional anchor in the midst of a story that feels like it’s breaking the formula. The feel of a Reckless book is entirely intact as we experience a story that might in other hands attempt to drastically change up its visual presentation. But allowing it to remain consistent, and compliment The Ghost in You which also breaks the formula by following Anna instead of Ethan, we’re still guided along by the visual language we’ve been used to. The painstaking effort of establishing this tone over 5 books in little under 2 years allows the entire series to feel like an established world. Images of the El Ricardo theater, Ethan’s primary base of operations, takes on a nostalgic quality because of the dense amount of material we have for this world by now, and how familiar we are with its design, colors, and emotional place in the story .
Follow Me Down is a cap on a series of graphic novels that have been a constant companion over these last two years of worldwide instability. It’s fitting then, that this book is the one that provides no easy answers, no moment of distant future solace and instead asks us to find that for ourselves when we turn the last page and realize a new adventure with this cast isn’t on the way within the next 4 months. I’ve gotten so used to having a new Reckless book with regularity that the emotional beat this ends on and the realization that we’ve reached the end of our promised 5 consecutive book run hits me like a freight train. That said, I would not trade the experience of reading these books upon release every few months (and multiple times in between) for anything.
Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Jacob Phillips have crafted a timeless series, an instant classic the likes of which we may not see from anyone else for a very long time. Follow Me Down is yet another masterful tome in a series of masterful works, and yet another feather in the cap of arguably comics’ greatest modern team.
Review: Follow Me Down: A Reckless Book
Follow Me Down: A Reckless Book
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $ 24.99
The fifth book in the bestselling RECKLESS series is here! Crime noir masters ED BRUBAKER & SEAN PHILLIPS present yet another original graphic novel starring troublemaker-for-hire Ethan Reckless.
In the wake of the 1989 earthquake, Ethan takes a trip to San Francisco to search for a missing woman. But almost immediately, he finds himself going down a path of darkness and murder in a case unlike anything he’s faced before.
FOLLOW ME DOWN is the most intense of the RECKLESS books so far and yet another hit from the most acclaimed team in comics, creators of PULP, MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES, CRIMINAL, THE FADE OUT, and KILL OR BE KILLED. A must-have for all BRUBAKER & PHILLIPS fans!
Publication Date: October 12, 2022
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