John Layman Ushers in a New Era for The Scorched

Scorched #23 Cover B Francesco Tomaselli

For the last couple years, Sean Lewis had been consistently scripting some of the best action you could find in comics. As the man at the narrative helm of half of the Spawn’s Universe titles, his uncanny knack for melding brutal, real violence with strong emotional themes brought me into the adventures of Al Simmons in a way nothing else has.

So, when it was announced that he’d be taking his leave of the titles, I was put out. Lewis, alongside Javier Fernandez on King Spawn and Stephen Segovia on The Scorched, opened up this world with grace, style and bombast in such a way that it made me a reader for life. Whoever they get to replace the man, I said to myself, has one hell of an uphill battle ahead of them.

Then came the solicit for the next issue, and with it a name familiar to me from when I got into comics way back during the New 52.

John Layman, of Detective Comics, Chew and Outer Darkness fame was the new writer of The Scorched.

Well dear reader, I was wrong. With The Scorched #23 onwards, Layman and Segovia have put on a masterclass in how to make ongoing comics sing.

Shifting States of Play

For those not in the loop, Lewis and Segovia’s fourth arc of The Scorched saw the team – now comprised of She-Spawn, Medieval, Redeemer, and Monolith – taking on Terminus, a populist guru-grifter type that was more than willing to stoke humanity’s worst impulses for even the smallest shot at godhood. It’s a powerful and dynamic capstone to a run that’s dealt, in various ways, with how self-professed saviours can abuse their authority and their following, and it closed out the first era of this title in true style.

As one might expect, that would leave any incoming writer, particular one that isn’t tasked with completely reinventing the book, in a tenuous situation. Shake things up too much, and you run the risk of alienating the in-built audience. Fail to take enough risks and you waste your shot at defining the identity of the book going forward.

Thankfully, the hand-off between Lewis and Layman is seamless.

First, it helps that Layman actually helps close out the final few story beats of the Terminus plotline. Scorched #23, which serves textually to reposition She-Spawn’s role as a lead in the series and tie off any loose ends with the apocalyptic threat of the Planet Eaters, also functions figuratively as a kind of narrative hand shake with the outgoing vision. As later issues quickly establish, Layman has his own bold, exciting ideas for the title and yet he doesn’t rush to do away with the old.

So often in comics, when a new creative team comes in there’s this sense that they’re all to eager not just to make their own mark on the book but to to do so in a way that rejects the direction of the prior run. This isn’t working, so now we’re doing it my way. And regardless of whether a shake-up is needed, some new directions feel anywhere from oddly dismissive to downright disrespectful of what came before.

The Scorched #23 on the other hand really takes the time to respect what’s come before. This isn’t Layman’s story, nor his ideas, but he still handles their resolution with the utmost care. Yes, this is arguably just what professionalism looks like, but the effect it has on the reading experience is palpable. It frames the era to come, and the sensibilities that guide it, as one in conversation with all the good work before it and as such is interested in cooking with the same ingredients, only with the goal of making a new dish.

Second, it walks that tightrope that all comics invariably walk: writing for new readers and old in equal measure.

If you’ve been following since the beginning, then the soft relaunch in The Scorched #24 feels like the logical next chapter in the story. If, however, the hype of Spawn #350 (or the announcement of more series) has gotten you interested in checking out the other titles, then you are welcomed comfortably into the narrative despite it being in media res.

What’s That I Hear of a Relaunch?

With The Scorched #24, Layman and Segovia’s run begins in earnest. She-Spawn, now settled on remaining with the team after a brief stint of resurrection-induced madness, rallies Redeemer and Marc Rosin (the human half of Medieval Spawn) to discuss the future of the Scorched.

On the page, it’s a tried-and-true scene: the old gun comes out of (possible) retirement, gives a rousing speech, and gets the band back together. What really makes it work though, outside of the increasingly strong and unique sense of voice Layman is infusing in each character, is the metatextual bent to this premise. This is as much about establishing what the Scorched is as a comic book as it is about establishing the Scorched as a team.

The Scorched #24 succeeds in large part because it engages directly with the metanarrative tension at its core, opening up this team and this storyline to a whole world of potential new readers, while maintaining sharp character dynamics, establishing new conflicts and continuing to deliver spectacular action. She-Spawn’s status as team leader is reaffirmed, and redefined; a new core selection of members is established, and their dynamics are explored in a fun dive-bar scene that touches on all the elements of character you’d need to know to understand both Medieval and Redeemer; a new villain is introduced, while also tying them subtly into the longstanding continuity (there’s that balancing act once again, deftly performed) and, of course, there’s the most important part.

Stephen Segovia gets to prove, as he does every month, that no one draws action better than him.

The Consistency of an Artist

For all the stellar work John Layman has done picking up the necroplasmic baton from Sean Lewis, the smoothness of the transition from one direction to the next wouldn’t be possible without the core stabilising agent – the art.

Art is crucial to any comic, but in Spawn comics – comics built of the philosophy of creator-driven stories that understand the vitality of visual storytelling – it is especially important. And to that end, it would be impossible to talk about what makes The Scorched work without talking about Stephen Segovia.

From issue #1, Segovia has been delivering career best work, rendering complex action sequences by expertly composing and choreographing pages. He knows how to balance spectacle, pace and character, and he does it month in, month out.

Yet the thing that really stands out now that Layman has taken up scripting duties is just how comfortable Segovia’s work looks on the page. This is an artist that feels right at home drawing this dysfunctional black-ops family unit, and it shows in how effortless he’s able to flex with bigger and grander compositions on every page. The showdown between She-Spawn and Spawn himself in The Scorched #23 for example rivals some of the best action I’ve read or seen, whether it be in comics, film or anime.

Moreover though, by retaining Segovia’s pencils on every issue of this book, it has ensured a clear and consistent sense of artistic voice throughout.

Regardless of changes in writer, The Scorched feels so successful month-to-month in large part because of Segovia’s ability (supported by Ulises Arreola and now Jay David Ramos on colours) to define and evolve the title’s visual identity.

It is my strongest recommendation, especially with Spawn #350 coming up, to check out both the main title and it’s spin-offs, but particularly The Scorched. You can practically feel the energy, both that coursing through the veins of its superpowered cast of characters and that emanating from its creative team, radiating from its pages. This is the kind of book that, through some combination of alchemy, magic and luck, seems to bring out the best in those that work on it, and you can tell they’re having fun while they do.

The Scorched is available both physically and digitally, with paperback collected editions (Vol. 1-3) out now. The Scorched #26 releases 14th February 2024 – and what a wonderful Valentine’s treat it would make!


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