Artyom Trakhanov, where have you been all my life? Trakhanov is the artist for a new miniseries from Boom! called Turncoat, and his art is unlike just about anyone working in the American comics business today. Trakhanov’s art is along the lines of European comics artists, (which makes sense, since he’s Russian) meaning it’s obsessively detailed, focused on different kinds of panel-to-panel transitions than American counterparts, and packed full of interesting, unique characters. It’s unbelievably pretty, yes, but it’s also dense and ornate, like a woodcut come to life.
One of the most appealing aspects of Trakhanov’s art is his tendency to highlight small details in circular panels. When the protagonist, Marta, notices a detail in a photograph handed to her by a client, that detail is inside a smaller circle. When she clicks a pen, or cracks her neck, or gets into a bar fight, Trakhanov highlights the action by circling it in a panel within a panel. Some artists can’t manage this kind of detail without distracting the reader, but on Trakhanov’s pages, the panels flow as easily as an animated film.
It’s not fair to the rest of Turncoat’s creative team that I can’t stop talking about Trakhanov’s art. It’s a sci-fi noir about a human woman who served on the police force for an invading alien force (called “the management”) before betraying her alien masters to a resistance force. The aliens, after 300 years of domination, are finally forced off the planet thanks to information supplied by Marta. This leaves her in a precarious position, as a friend tells her early in the book:
This won’t be clean, Marta. You know that, right? Lotta bad people lived too well under management to just hand over the keys to the world….Timing’s everything, pal. You gave us what we needed to hurt ‘em where it hurts, sure, but you did it just a touch too close to the end. Now both sides are gonna take you for a carpetbagger.
Five years later, Marta is a lonely woman, a private detective who gets assaulted randomly by both former pro-human resistance forces and alien sympathizers alike. She takes on a case that smells bad, and early clues indicate that it might lead to the management’s return. Alex Paknadel’s script is very strong — packed with information without feeling leaden — and it juggles genre tropes with a delicate touch. Paknadel could probably carry a lesser artist with his novelistic approach (there are more words per page than you’d find on five or six pages of your standard Marvel comic) but with an artist as naturally gifted as Trakhanov, it takes a couple readings before you realize how well-written the whole thing is.
Turncoat is walking down a dangerous path. It’s easy to imagine the many alien invasion/private detective clichés that the script could fall prey to in its remaining three issues. But as long as Trakhanov continues to draw the series, every issue will be, at the very least, worth the cover price just in terms of sheer stare-worthiness alone.