When we first meet Leo Guidry, the main character of Head Wounds: Sparrow—a new graphic novel developed by Oscar Isaac, written by Brian Buccellato, illustrated by Christian Ward, and created by Robert Johnson and John Alvey—he’s not much of a hero. He’s a crooked cop in New Orleans who seems more interested in getting drunk and having sex with his married girlfriend than he is invested in helping people. That changes when he’s shot in the head.
Except, he’s not shot. Another cop was shot, and he’s just been cursed to bear the wounds of those who get hurt under his watch. As Leo deals with the fact that he’s bleeding from a head wound that only he can see, mystical forces—both angel, demonic, and all those lost souls in between—are congregating in New Orleans.
The book is treading well-worn ground; a bad cop with a chip on his shoulder, and a dead wife and kid, who is being forced to contend with the consequences of his actions. While this is a relatively common formula, the deep, rich worldbuilding attached to the lore of this world, alongside the absolutely stellar art by Christian Ward (who is well known for his bright, poppy, graphic designs and his bold use of vibrant colors) elevates Head Wounds: Sparrow from what might have been standard fare into a dizzying, gut-wrenching, and wonderfully esoteric graphic novel that is well worth picking up.
As Leo fights against his first instinct, which is to simply Not Get Involved, he has to contend with the fact that he has failed the people he should have wanted to protect. It’s not that he tried and failed, it’s that he didn’t really try at all. It takes divine intervention before he wakes up and begins to understand the kind of pain he’s caused… literally. Then, the perfect one-two punch of physical damage and psychic trauma; only he can see his vicariously inflicted wounds. He feels their pain constantly, but there is no cure for his wounds because, in an ironic moment of divine retribution, they do not exist.
I always appreciate a comic that can be violent and horrific without necessarily relying on constant graphic depictions of gore to get the point across. A great example is when Leo first attempts to sew up his bleeding head wound, and we get a few panels of the needle going in and out of his skin before the bullet hole reopens with a pop. The rest of the time the wound is covered by a bloody bandage, but we’re haunted by the three panels of that wound being sewn together. We know what’s there.
This is Leo’s biblical reckoning. In between attempting to solve a murder, he’s also got his hands full attempting to find a pair of kidnapping victims, gets caught up in a war between the souls trapped in the bardo of neverending half-life on Earth, and is roped into a cult that attempt to sacrifice people in order to win elections. The way that the book combines occultism and the real consequences of human behavior is one of its strengths, making for a story that demands Leo acknowledge not only the harm he does, but the inherent humanity of those that society would rather ignore or pass off as undesirable.
The artwork does a lot to convey the state of Leo’s headspace, alternating between aquamarine and citrine backgrounds, creating a setting that isn’t gritty so much as it is graphic. And that’s the point—this book needs to make you feel frantic, overwhelmed, like the world is too bright, like it’s a migraine in disguise, or else we’re just watching another bad detective get his comeuppance… and his redemption.
The thing that I really appreciate about Head Wounds: Sparrow is that Leo is dragged, kicking and screaming, into redemption. While does eventually get justice, he can’t help everyone he was supposed to help. He does eventually find a way to survive, but it’s at the cost of who he is, who he has been for years. His redemption comes from a force bigger than himself, an angelic force, the literal fear of God put into him by the apocryphal archangel Uriel. Be not afraid, Leo Guidry, but remember to do the work... or else.
Head Wounds: Sparrow is available now. The graphic novel was developed by Oscar Isaac through his production company, Mad Gene Media and published by Legendary Comics. It was written by Brian Buccellato, illustrated by Christian Ward, and created by Robert Johnson and John Alvey.
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