Terence Anthony is more well known in Los Angeles’ theatrical circles, as a playwrite with an eclectic and exciting resume, but his successful Kickstarter campaign for espionage thriller Protege has certainly brought him attention in comic circles as well. I recently had the chance to read this hard edged, gadget laden, spy-fi series, and I was not disappointed.
Coltrane “Trane” Wallace, the aging DSI agent on the cusp of retirement, alongside his partner Devin Edwards, are in a race against time to complete one final mission when their lives are forever changed by a chance meeting with the young assassin, Allumette. But was it a coincidence? Are Trane, Devin, and Allumette merely puppets, and if so who’s really behind the curtain holding the strings?
I’m a sucker for spy thrillers when done well, and Anthony has certainly put the legwork, research, and hours in to make Protege a standout piece of the genre. The characters are well rounded, each with their own personality tics and traits to keep them interesting. Each character has a unique angle, with plenty of secrets that slowly unfold, changing your perceptions of them. Sure there are plenty of shootouts and explosions, and a top notch conspiracy/mystery, but at its heart Protege is a character piece. In the case of Allumette, the micro-mystery behind her background and how she became this cold-blooded killer is as interesting as the overarching mystery driving the story. Anthony writes a high-octane potboiler reminiscent of Greg Rucka or John le Carré, in that even with its more fantastical elements the story is plausible in its own reality, and full of great, relatable characters you want to root for even if you’re not sure they’re the good guys.
Anthony is a more than capable writer, perfectly balancing the kinetic action scenes and the grounded quieter moments, giving the story plenty of chances to breathe. He has a handle on pacing that I’m sure comes from his theater experiences, and the story moves at a driving pace, always moving forward, and keeping the reader guessing until the end. Growing up with the Twilight Zone it’s really hard to surprise me with a twist, but Anthony does this multiple times, to his credit, keeping me excited to keep going page after page.
Now let’s talk about Juan Romera’s artwork. It took me a few pages to get into it, especially being in black and white, but once I did I was impressed. His art isn’t flashy, and for this type of story that’s a good thing. His art helps keep the story grounded in its reality, and even though it isn’t hyper-realistic, and in fact a bit cartoonish, it works amiably. His page layouts are simple, but his panels are anything but, using dramatic angles and dynamic compositions to drive the tension home. Romera’s strongest trait is in character work, much like Anthony’s, and he deftly uses body language and facial expressions to tell the story. Though I love his use of grey to expand his canvas, the full color covers are fantastic and show just what Romera is capable of.
Protege is an exciting addition to the spy-thriller genre, from the well written script full of tension, mystery, double-crosses, and plenty of human drama, to the gritty realism of the artwork. Protege is that rare independent book that shines in every way, and leaves you breathlessly wanting more. I can’t wait reunite with these characters in volume two.