Espers #1, 1997, Halloween Comics
writer: James D. Hudnall
artist: Greg Horn
letterer: Roxanne Starr
If one judged this book by its cover, one would assume that Espers #1 is just like any other Greg Horn vehicle, starring a beautifully detailed and masterfully colored female lead that inevitably finds herself in many suspenseful yet compromising positions. Horn’s cover work on Elektra is the first and prominently mainstream example that comes to mind. Yet, when one opens this issue, he may be surprised to discover that Horn is responsible for the interior artwork, as well. Further, he may be surprised to discover that it’s not all that great. Like many bar bands, Greg Horn is at his best in the covers department.
Seriously, Espers #1 is the perfect example that every notable artist must start somewhere. Halloween Comics – appropriately dubbed in the context of this weekend’s spooky celebration – was a self-publishing effort that was promptly incorporated into Image Comics, and Espers was Greg Horn’s first professional, consistent comic book work, which explains the distinction from his current, critically acclaimed career. The apparent juggernaut behind the project, writer James D. Hudnall, obviously didn’t anticipate his partner’s future success, as his complimentary essay boasts about his accomplishments in the comics industry, and really, how great Espers is. Unlike yesterday’s read, I’m glad I didn’t hit this essay first. I would’ve been even more disappointed in the story than I already am.
Although this issue of Espers is a first, this is the second volume, picking up with subplots and characters established in an earlier run. Hudnall does right by the reader by introducing a new character, a proverbial muse to guide frustrated fans through the Espers experience, but Skye’s potential as an intriguing lead character ends there. Her psychic abilities are a burden, not only in practice, but also in premise, as her own mother doesn’t even believe in her skills. The height of this issue’s action is when Skye’s fatal dream nearly comes true, as supernatural bounty hunters almost kill her before the Espers (pronounced ess-pers, as the inside cover makes clear) arrive and insist that she join them in their cooperative quest to save the world. Yes, the premise of this issue is that a young woman with inexplicable psychic skills is recruited by a band of similarly powered citizens to help society embrace their kind. You don’t have to be a mind reader to know how Hudnall came up with this one.
I don’t have many other thoughts on this issue, save one: the success of a comic book series should depend on the easy pronunciation of its title. Until the inside front cover’s backstory blurb corrected me, I had no idea how to say “Espers.” I was tempted to say ESP-ers, to emphasize the power over the people involved. I was wrong, just as I was wrong to expect the kind of interior art that reflects Horn’s efforts on the surface. Halloween Comics certainly lived up to its name, specifically in the “tricks over treats” department. Just like the Espers corporate move, Halloween Comics was all about image.