Writer: Antony Johnston
Artist: Shari Chankhamma
October is full of first issues, and every one of them needs to make some kind of effort to stand up. Antony Johnston’s latest creator-owned following the untimely cancellation of Umbral is a spy thriller with Shari Chankhamma, who has worked alongside Johnston previously with The Fuse. Codename Baboushka the Conclave of Death #1 isn’t the strongest debut issue of Johnston’s, but it still shows some potential for the future. Is there enough potential there to warrant buying this issue in a sea of great firsts?
Codename Baboushka #1 introduces Contessa, a former Russian spy being blackmailed by the United States government into working in the field once more. The woman formerly known as Baboushka must emerge once more to carry out dirty jobs, including assassinations. While the premise is certainly familiar, there is quite a bit of potential for a solid spy story. Unfortunately, this issue stumbles out the gates as it grapples attempting to give the reader interesting characters and dialogue.
The job in which Baboushka is tasked with carrying out in this issue is interesting enough, but the establishing of the plot as well as the character development leaves a lot to be desired. The spy gets her briefing while in a vehicle, which doesn’t serve as the most interesting setting for a conversation for over five pages. The characters brought up in this issue don’t appear to be too interesting either. Most feel flat, with very little personality present outside of their occupations.
It’s a shame that all these elements fail to come together sufficiently because the spy stuff is actually interesting. The action scenes are laid out in a manner that allow for all of the typical espionage hijinks to progress smoothly. Shari Chankhamma’s pencils are rocky, but she at least successfully draws the action with solid poses and wildly expressive facial expressions. The series plays off of the clichés present in films like James Bond, and it’s clear that Chankhamma has some fun with the characters she draws. The design choices for the bad guys especially stand out, from the big, macho bodyguards to the scary looking guy with massive facial scarring and a missing eye. The villains and action scenes are juxtaposed with an almost whimsical art style that at times comes across as overly animated. This isn’t detrimental to the issue, but it does change the tone of the title, and some panels don’t appear to match the violent tone that Johnston is going for.