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There are very few ways to write anything implausible, especially when it comes to comic books. In an industry whose main revenue comes from stories about men with radioactive spider powers or aliens with the ability to move moons, it's damn difficult to make anything sound impossible, at least in context.

Skinwalker is one of the most implausible comics I've ever read, and yet, I find that I like it despite the implausibility of its main premise. Greg Haworth is an up-and-coming FBI agent who receives a slightly panicked message from his ex-partner Brian Forsythe now working in the Indian Crimes Unit in Arizona. Shortly after, Forsythe disappears and bodies without skin start to show up in the Four Corners, as well as back at Washington. Forsythe may be dead, a victim of this serial killer, maybe the killer himself, but either way, Haworth has to find him.

To help in his investigation is the local tribal police (re: the one sheriff for miles), embodied in the character of Ann Adakai, a Native Navajo who understands the traditions being violated by whoever is killing these people.

You see, skinwalker is a term that applies to the "witches" of the Navajo; they would wear animal skins in attempts to garner power from the pelts' original owner. No one has ever done it to a human before, and it appears that whoever has tried the ceremony and started this killing spree has succeeded. He or she can swap skins whenever the need arises (and it does arise, often).

In order to help the image of her people and to stop this defilement if her culture, not to mention the fact that hey, there's a lot of dead bodies near and around the Navajo reservation, Adakai decides to join Haworth in this unofficial manhunt for a murderer with a penchant for wearing other people's birthday suits. As they get closer to the truth of how and why this skinwalker is operating, Haworth and Adakai discover just how far reaching this case is.

This is my main complaint about the comic; it's just so illogical. The premise of a person being able to skin a person, then skin himself or herself, and then wear the skin of the other guy borders heavily on ludicrous. How a person can skin himself, even with the aid of acupuncture or drugs (both of which are mentioned in the story) -- I cannot believe that it would even be possible. The killer never takes any ill effect from switching from skin to skin, despite the fact that without the skin, the human body is so ripe for bacteria that a person would probably die quick and painful if exposed to open air. In addition, the very fact the killer can put on the skin of anyone and essentially be them, is a decent enough stretch of my capacity to understand the dynamics of story.

The writers, Nunzio Defillipis and Christina Weir, write a pretty decent crime comic. It's not on the level of Greg Rucka or Ed Brubaker, but Skinwalker is a great example of "good idea, bad execution." The premise of a man being able to skin himself and wear someone else's skin is so far science fiction-ish or fantastical that it upsets the flow of the rest of the book. The cop situations are handled very well and you can see that Defillipis and Weir are quite good at writing engaging dialogue; the exchanges between Haworth and Adakai are interesting and it helps to establish the characters. Adakai has a chip on her shoulder and seems to take offense at whatever Haworth says, while Haworth seems to shift between not caring what Adakai says, to depending on her, to becoming friends. They were very real characters.

The fact that the skinwalking phenomenon is introduced to the story, which is implausible and illogical, subtracts from the partner dynamic, as well as from the general story. The plot would have been better served if the skinnings had been relegated to simple serial killings, and not some hodge-podge of Navajo mysticism.

The research the writers did for Skinwalker shows in the details. In between chapters, there are small educational bits that take up a page, explaining small bits of Navajo culture and tradition. They're not important to the story, but they help to enrich the reading.

The artwork is great and I very much like Brian Hurt's style; he has a good eye for gender differences, facial expression, and he sets his scenes very well, always switching up from one angle to a different angle. It was also noted in the introduction by Greg Rucka that Hurt is the only man who knows how to draw Native American women, and I can see that it's very true. He is an all-around good artist and his pencils are one of the reasons I'm fond of the book.

If you can suspend your disbelief long enough to accept the story elements that do not make an inordinate amount of sense, and simply enjoy the thriller aspects of the script, Skinwalker is a good comic.

Robert Sparling

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