Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Writer: M. L. Miller
Artwork: Carlos Granda
Colours: Champe Ramirez
Lettering: Jim Campbell
Release Date: 18th November 2020
I fondly remember reviewing the first two issues of Black Mask’s Pirouette all the way back in 2014, and singing the praises of the story of a young girl raised in the circus who dreams of wiping the paint from her face and escaping the clutches of her cruel adopted family. And from the opening sequence where our protagonist violently, viscerally attempts to escape the constraints of her face paint, it becomes readily apparent that Pirouette is a deeply unhappy girl.
A lifelong member (or should that be prisoner?) of the circus, she finds herself forced into the role of clown when all she really wants is the freedom and exhilaration of the flying trapeze. However, while this may – on paper at least – seem like the beginnings of a heart-warming Disney Movie, let me assure you right now that the bleak, unforgiving world which Pirouette inhabits is most definitely no Disneyland.
Writer M. L. Miller has crafted a darkly unpleasant world to surround Pirouette’s Big Top home; a world filled with rivalries, tensions and shockingly brutal violence. Her mischievous nature and burning desire to be free – even if just for a few minutes on the trapeze – ensures that we’re instantly rooting for her, and while there are admittedly a few friendly faces in her adopted ‘family’, the vast majority of her fellow performers are selfish and cruel.
As a result of this impressive set-up, when Pirouette discovers that the parents who abandoned her all those years ago are living in the next town the circus is getting set to visit, and that she may finally have a means of escape, it’s difficult not to become drawn into her excitement as she finally sees a light at the end of this violent, abusive, grease-paint tunnel.
Besides the immensely endearing and sympathetic Pirouette character herself, the main selling point of this series is undoubtedly the stellar artwork of Carlos Granda. Packing an impressive level of detail into his panels with some precise, measured linework, Granda crafts some truly impressive splash pages and double-page spreads throughout the course of the four issues, and the level of emotion he manages to convey on Pirouette’s painted face – ranging from horror to elation to quiet, subdued sadness – is worthy of the highest praise.
Honestly, there are too many notable visual sequences and splash pages to single out, but the shocking detail and haunting imagery continues throughout, and whether it’s technical precision or evocative moments of claustrophobic horror, Granda is on his absolute A-game from start to finish.
Champe Ramirez and The Comic En Linea Foundation provides the colours here, painting the world in a muted, washed out haze that echoes our protagonist’s inner pain. Hell, even the colour of the clowns themselves feels dirty and menacing. Make no mistake, folks, this is a visually stunning comic, and one that provides an extremely polished look at a decidedly unpolished world.
It’s also worth noting Jim Campbell’s typically strong contributions in terms of both lettering and page flow, leading the reader’s eye around Granda’s increasingly ambitious double-page spreads with consummate ease, and hitting the horrific notes of the story with a real flair (for instance, one particular moment in a closet wouldn’t elicit anywhere near as many chills without Campbell’s measured, slightly italicized font choice).
The ending – which is incredibly dark and harrowing, even for this series’ standards – is enjoyable, if perhaps not quite satisfying enough for my tastes (although don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had), and leaves things on a frustratingly ambiguous question mark that I would really love to see fleshed out in at least another issue or two. Perhaps that’s me just being greedy though, but I’d really love to see this creative team take another look at this darkly disturbing word (and, encouragingly, Miller states in his afterword that he still has more of Pirouette’s story to tell).
So, if you missed out on this series when it first went on sale around six years ago, you really owe it to yourself to pick up the collected trade this week. Blending what could potentially be seen as worn-out tropes (more menacing clowns, anyone?) into a fresh, chilling and visually stunning package, Pirouette is a nightmarish look at the world beneath the canvas of the big top through the eyes of a tragic-yet-remarkable young girl.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]