Rick Veitch’s The One #1
Publisher: IDW Comics
Writer: Rick Veitch
Artist: Rick Veitch
Cover: Rick Veitch
Colors: Kirby Veitch
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
I have immense respect for the work of Rick Veitch. Though I’m mostly familiar with him from his longtime association with Alan Moore, Veitch is a remarkable talent in his own right as well. He’s made his mark on books from Swamp Thing to Miracleman to Aquaman, and Veitch’s contribution to the medium cannot be underestimated.
I regret that I was unfamiliar with The One prior to the re-release of this series from IDW, because it represents an interesting chapter of Veitch’s career. The One was a six-issue limited series written and drawn by Veitch in the 1980’s for Epic Comics. Billed as “The Last Word in Superheroics”, The One is a literary satire of Cold War politics set in a world of post-nuclear superheroes. This series was published towards the end of the Cold War, and while it reflects the mindset of those times, it’s also a comic that has gained a frightening relevance in recent years.
Though very much a comic of its day, The One holds up as one of the underrated gems of the 1980’s.
Veitch always had a strong gift for eye-catching visuals, and his cover for this issue is no exception. It’s a modernized version of the cover used in the original mini-series for Epic, though streamlined and aimed more towards a current audience. Still, the idea of a cover that is essentially a riff on a Tide detergent box is cleverly done, and the execution gets across the tone of the book without showing much of anything. The presence of the Other in silhouette works as well, reminding the reader of the genre without hammering classic tropes to the audience.
Rick Veitch’s work in the interior pages is no less eye-catching, as he displays a veteran artist’s grasp of visual storytelling. Be aware that this comic uses 1980’s storytelling techniques, so you shouldn’t expect any of the modern approaches to comics art. This book visually comes across as something you might expect from the edgier artists of that period, of which Veitch is certainly one of them. The layouts have a definite sense of visceral reality to them, with characters that look realistic in a human sense, as opposed to the idealized superhero figures that are a genre staple. Veitch also uses several close-up shots, particularly headshots, with sparse backgrounds, but what he does show is expressive and distinctive.
One of the more interesting techniques that Veitch uses in this comic is using black panels featuring a headshot of a single narrator. Though this method, Veitch is attempting to show the perspective of one of the major figures in this piece, whether that’s a world leader or one of the individuals on the ground that’s been affected by the empowering event. It’s an approach that lends itself well to narration and dialogue, providing character information as well as a piece of the narrative puzzle. However, each character model is expressive and the subtle visual touches hint at some future time period, where the characters are reflecting back at the events of this issue. While not a device I would like to see used too often, it’s an interesting touch to the comic and makes it visually more distinctive.
Although I’m largely unfamiliar with the original version of this series, this new version of The One offers remastered coloring from Kirby Veitch. Generally, the new coloring is satisfying, managing to both add new texture to the original scans while also feeling true to the 1980’s aesthetic. There are clear signs to the modern coloration, particularly in Kirby Veitch’s use of lighting, which is excellent and adds depth to what was there previously. In other regards, though, the coloring doesn’t appear from what you might expect from a comic of its era, especially in terms of character designs. Television screens have the same quality you’d expect of the period, and the artifacts of the time ring true to what Rick Veitch depicts. The distinctive coloring of the event looks sharper and more eye-catching as well, enhanced by the strong lighting work presented here.
I’m not entirely certain who did the lettering work for this comic, since it wasn’t formally credited. However, it may well have been Rick Veitch, since he was involved in all other aspects of the original series. Regardless, the lettering here is quite solid, though the style is a throwback to the time when it was written. Anyone familiar with comics like Watchmen and Miracleman won’t find the styling of The One to be too noticeably different from either of those series. Veitch always has an eye for what works on the page, and his panels always allow room for this book’s intense dialogue. The lettering never obscures anything we need to see, allowing the eye to focus on the important visual elements of each panel. Subtle background details create a sense of time and place, such as T-shirt designs and lettered signs against the broken walls of the city. Sound effects are not greatly prevalent, but when they’re present, they create a strong sense of atmosphere and help build the tension of the scene.
I’m struck by the sheer level of Rick Veitch’s ambition with this story. In interviews, Veitch claimed that The One was one of the first books to ride the wave of Miracleman, which he had worked on previously. According to Veitch, his intent with this series was to create truly literary comics with the density and structure of a novel, as Alan Moore had done with his work on titles like Watchmen. He cites science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov and Stanislaw Lem as influences, and there are definite signs of these ideas in The One. However, I would also go a step further and suggest that this title also draws noticeable influence from Dr. Strangelove, which was likewise satirizing nuclear geopolitics and Cold War hysteria. Additionally, The One is also a book that predated later titles that would attempt this format, such as Rising Stars, realizing the potential of superheroes as a science fiction concept.
Unlike many comics that attempt to comment on the political landscape, Veitch shows a level of wit and insight about human nature that is commendable. One of the points that is made abundantly clear early on is made through the character of Itch, who shows that it doesn’t matter who fires the first shot, because the corporate powers who finance the wars are the only true winners. Itch is shown as a clever manipulator who does effectively nothing while world leaders are forced to react in comical fashion. This quickly sets the tone for the entire comic, explaining the concept of “The Big Sleep” (a name possibly inspired by Raymond Chandler), the event that grants superpowers to random individuals in this world. From here, Veitch expertly shows the consequences of the core premise, logically working out how people might act when presented with this situation. This is a classic first issue’s setup, introducing the people affected by The Big Sleep and how their changes drive their later decisions.
While this is a cleverly written comic and it holds up well in many ways, be aware that this is a thirty-year-old series and there are moments where it shows its age. The political satire is clearly aimed at former President Ronald Reagan, and those references may be easily missed if you’re not familiar with the landscape of the 1980’s. There is also a definite moment midway through the comic that may be uncomfortable to a post-9/11 audience, though Veitch couldn’t possibly have predicted that at the time he wrote it. Nevertheless, there are moments that feel as true today as they were at the time they were written, and the heart behind the satire still works even in a modern context.
Although The One doesn’t quite measure up to the greatest comics of the 1980’s, it is a biting and scathing political satire that can fairly be considered as a cult classic. Rick Veitch had a clear vision for how he wanted comics to evolve during the 80’s, and The One definitely succeeds in realizing that vision. This is an issue that even sheds new insight under subsequent re-readings, a sign of a quality comic.
As a rule, I tend to reserve my highest praise for comics that represent the pinnacle of what the medium can achieve. Considering how well this title has generally aged, as well as its uniqueness and the trends that it set, The One has earned a bomb-dropping 10/10. Although I normally take a dim view towards pricing a single issue at $5, the level of Rick Veitch’s output with this book justifies that price point. This title exemplifies what comics aspired to be thirty years ago—thoughtful, literary comics that took the superhero and used the genre to make the reader think about the world in a new light. We don’t have nearly enough comics like this anymore, and I applaud IDW for taking the step of publishing this book.
Written By Steve Sellers
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