There’s already rapid psychological changes, raging hormones, voice changes, and all the other horrifying things that happen as a body gets ready for adulthood. There’s also a distinct note of panic, as people try to get themselves ready for the rest of their lives, and what they’ll choose to do with those lives now that they’re out on their own.
And then there’s what happens to Jess.
Jess, the heroine of Image Comics’s new graphic novel Sinergy, has a fairly good life. A good-looking boyfriend, a full hockey scholarship to a good school, a mother and father who love her very much, and things are looking up for the most part.
Until, that is, in the middle of losing her virginity to her boyfriend Leaf, he suddenly turns into a large red spiked demon with sharp teeth. And then they’re interrupted by her father, who chases Leaf out of the house while threatening to kill him and shouting about how he’s “seen his face”.
It turns out that Jess, like her father, is a “Seer”, someone with the ability to see demons in human forms displaced to Earth through portals set up around the globe. Night after night, her father and the family dog (who is a demon in disguise) drive their truck around, dispatching demons as they try to draw sin energy (called “Sinergy” for short) out of humans around them.
The demons, meanwhile, are trying to open a portal to get home via draining humans of their energy, possibly destroying or merging with Earth in the process (It’s not clear and they don’t really care). In the middle of all of this are two police officers who are investigating a series of mysterious deaths that have something to do with Jess’s father and his monster-hunting activities.
With the stars aligning and the demon’s plan coming to fruition, Jess has to navigate the new life forced upon her and decide what it is she wants to do with herself. But Leaf has plans of his own, plans to lead a demon invasion of Earth, and those plans also concern Jess…
So right away, the stage is set for an epic demons vs. seers battle, but what I love about Sinergy the most is that none of these people know what they’re doing. The demon force that wants to cause an Earth-wide invasion is literally five people. Five people who have no idea how to achieve their means outside luring Jess in and making the portal bigger. While there’s a dedicated and kind of competent Seer presence in Portland, they’re no better— donut binges are considered a way to get energy and food in before a hunt*, everyone appears to have learned their chops by watching B-movies and reading comic books, and throughout the story, the cops keep finding bodies that one side or the other in a supposedly “secret” war keep leaving in findable locations or stealing from the Multnomah County morgue. It’s actually kind of refreshing to have characters who are competent, but are clearly out of their depth, and the comic portrays it well.
As a part of this, Michael Avon Oeming and Taki Soma have to be commended on their writing**. The characters really come off the page in this one, and it’s nice to see that for once, in a comic all about choice, the main character has a great deal of agency and, most importantly, is allowed to be a character. In most monster-hunting hero comics, the hero is basically expected to give up their life or, worse still, try to balance their daily life with being a hero. Oeming and Soma do a much better job here by showing Jess’s slow acceptance to her new life as a seer, as opposed to her life as a normal person. The process takes time, and they showed it.
Similarly, the demons are sympathetic, if only because all they want to do is eat and then go home. The most evil thing about them is that they’re apathetic to humans, and Leaf seems to pinball back and forth between actually liking Jess and wanting to use Jess to cause a Seer-powered ritual to take him home. While there are demons who are out-and-out evil (the one who calls Jess a “little asshole” comes to mind), the demons feel like a wide range of characters, just like the heroes.
And finally, most importantly, the art is fantastic. While I’m not usually a fan of the angular big-eyed comics style, Oeming and Soma deserve praise for the specific reason that they, unlike a lot of people working in comics today, actually get that comics is a visual medium. While very little is revealed about the workings of the world, there are some nice touches, such as body disposal handled via eldritch abomination and the fact that Seers all have red hair. A lot of the exposition is right there on the page, and that’s all there needed to be.
But there is one problem, and it has to do with that angular, big-eyed style. There were some moments where I was unsure who was talking, since several characters looked similar to one another. There were also some really confusing panel layouts, making scenes jumbled. Especially during some exposition-heavy scenes with the cops.
Also, I would have liked it if there were more about the world. While the story is set in Portland, Oregon there is little to connect it to Portland, so it seems more like it could happen anywhere. Also, the setting kind of just drops away at points, which was also fairly annoying.
But if you’re looking for a refreshing blend of quirky humor and B-movie violence with an engaging and colorful cast, anchored by a fully-formed female lead, look no further. Sinergy is arguably the best hero comic I’ve read all year, a refreshing breath of fresh air in the monster-hunter genre, and I’d gladly read it again.
Full disclosure: The reviewer received a review copy of this trade paperback.
*A producer on an indie project I worked on once tried that. By the end of the day, everyone was weeping and crashed on sugar. They used me as a passed-out extra in one scene because I was actually passed out. And still able to sass people.
** The book lists them as “co-creators”. I see no need to separate them.