Head Wounds: Sparrow
Written by Brian Buccellato
Story by Robert Johnson and John Alvey
Art by Christian Ward
A Long Time Coming
Okay, I admit it. I’m easily hooked – especially when the hook is Oscar Isaac.
Developed by Oscar Isaac and Jason Spire (hence the hook), Head Wounds: Sparrow is a graphic novel that was first conceived by Robert Johnson, who took the story to Isaac and John Alvey (all three have been friends since high school). They bounced ideas off each other, then teamed up with Brian Buccellato to write the story and Eisner Award-winning artist Christian Ward to bring it to life.
The story follows Leo Guidry, a corrupt New Orleans police detective who suddenly starts feeling the pain – and psychically wearing the wounds (visible only to him) – of those he has hurt, and of those he has sworn to protect but didn’t. While struggling to find out what the hell is going on, and being visited by cryptic astral projection-y beings, he finds himself in the midst of an epic battle between good and evil where he learns he must decide whether to give up or to seek justice through vengeance.
Guess which one he picks – as if he really has a choice.
This might seem like a pretty standard storyline, but Head Wounds: Sparrow goes way beyond rote explication. It simply feels different, a lot of which is due to the visual way its dynamic worldbuilding is brought to life. This is a story especially suited to a graphic novel, and Christian Ward’s incredible illustrations convey both shadowy noir and crisp action with a strong, bold palette supporting hazy, often indistinct images which both draw readers in and maintains a sense of other-worldliness. While you’re constantly thrown off balance in these illustrations, you’re also acutely aware of the action taking place – both broad and intimate.
Indifference Makes You Culpable
But there’s something else drawing us in… as Gizmodo’s Linda Codega aptly states, “As Leo fights against his first instinct, which is to simply Not Get Involved, he has to contend with the fact that he has failed the people he should have wanted to protect. It’s not that he tried and failed, it’s that he didn’t really try at all. It takes divine intervention before he wakes up and begins to understand the kind of pain he’s caused… literally. Then, the perfect one-two punch of physical damage and psychic trauma; only he can see his vicariously inflicted wounds. He feels their pain constantly, but there is no cure for his wounds because, in an ironic moment of divine retribution, they do not exist.” (Read Linda’s full Gizmodo review here; it’s really good!)
Now, I have to admit that try as I might, I appreciate graphic novels a lot more than I enjoy them. I can see their appeal, and intuit that they carry a lot of weight. But I tend to forget them almost as soon as I close the cover. Not this one. I mean, sure, the hook got me there (I mean – Oscar Issac, amirite?). But the look and the feel of this graphic novel sunk in, and I find myself musing about the implications of the storyline days later. This is one I’m going to read again in a few weeks, to enjoy again and perhaps find something new. And for me, that speaks volumes regarding the value I find in a literary work. I’m so glad I took the bait on this particular hook.
– Sharon Browning