Writer/Artist: Jason Pittman
It’s a sad truth that a large number of small-press comic titles never get a chance to reach their conclusion. Whether it’s as a result of financial issues, the harsh realities of self-publishing or any one of a hundred other factors, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that a lot of these fantastic elevator pitches and gripping opening issues are never destined to be fleshed out into a full series.
Fortunately though, that’s not always the case. Which is why I was hugely excited when, almost three years(!) after its initial release, the third and final issue of Jason Pittman’s Leftovers – now entitled “The War for Kaleb” – dropped into my inbox.
For those who missed my review of the first two issues back in 2014, here’s a quick summary: Kaleb is a young man living with some fairly intense anxiety. The medication he has been taking for as long as he can remember keeps him in check, but it also dulls his senses to the point where he finds himself having to ‘act out’ being a human being in line with what he thinks people want to see. He has a girlfriend, Addey, and there’s a genuine connection between the two, but Kaleb is consumed by a crippling doubt that she’s going to leave him, and that the only reason he loves her anyway because of the pills he’s taking. So, in a somewhat questionable decision, he goes off his meds, trying to find out for sure what his heart really wants.
The genius part of the story comes in the visual representation of Kaleb’s anxiety. With a lot of his issues stemming from a childhood incident of bullying because he loved superheroes so much and wore a home-made cape to school, Kaleb is constantly shadowed by two costumed versions of himself – one a hero, and the other a villain. Both of these figures are in picked out in vibrant colours, a sharp contrast to the rest of Kaleb’s life which is in black and white, and their appearances usually coincide with moments of safety, security, fear or anger. So if, say, Kaleb is getting stressed out in a crowded bar, the red and black costumed villain will perched nearby on the end of the bar, a taunting smirk on his face. You get the idea.
What’s more, as Kaleb’s internal struggles become more dramatic, we get to see these two costumed doppelgangers battling back and forth, hurling each other through walls and trains and providing a visceral, visual representation of the emotional turmoil of our leading man. Pittman’s artwork is solid and expressive, even if the level of detail suffers on some occasions, but it’s the use of colour that really makes this series sing, helping the core premise resonate throughout the pages and underscoring the pain and frustration Kaleb is suffering through.
This climactic issue sees Addey and Kaleb’s best friend Mike meeting to discuss how best to help him, all while Kaleb’s blue-and-yellow-suited hero continues to fight a losing battle against his villainous other half. It all boils down to an emotionally raw conversation between Addey and Kaleb on a rooftop, and… well… I’m not going to spoil the outcome, but it’s guaranteed to have pulses racing and emotions running high throughout.
While it’s undoubtedly emotional, Pittman takes great care to keep us on the right side of melodrama, focusing on Kaleb’s inner battle in a thoroughly relatable way. His tense exchange with Addey as she tries to lend her support and get through to him makes for an utterly gripping read, and the payoff to the entire story is uplifting and moving, albeit tinged with sadness.
The final pages provide a deeply emotional denouement to what has been a stellar series, wrapping things up succinctly and giving a real sense of closure to Kaleb’s story.
Call it an interesting twist on a superhero story, call it a creative way to look at the complicated world of mental illness, or just call it a damn fine comic, the fact remains that The War for Kaleb is one of the best small press comics I’ve ever read, and deserves to be seen by as many eyes as possible.
You can (and should) grab yourself a copy of The War For Kaleb #3, as well as the first two issues of the series, from the Leftovers Online Store.