‘Vindication’ issue No. 1 muddies discussion of racism in justice system

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

From films such as “Blindspotting” and “The Hate U Give” to the more recent controversy over Maroon 5’s decision to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show, art in the last year has brought police violence and racial profiling to the foreground in significant ways. Image Comics and Top Cow Productions’ new miniseries “Vindication,” written by MD Marie and with art by Dema Jr., Carlos Miko and Thiago Goncalves, is the latest work to do so, aspiring to bring a discussion of race and the justice system to the medium of comics.

And while the ethos of “Vindication” is admirable, its story muddies its politics. The series’ first issue opens with Turn Washington, a young Black man recently released from a prison stint, adamant that he never deserved it. Immediately after his release, Turn is confronted by Detective Chip Christopher, who’s convinced that Turn is a criminal.

So, when a murder is discovered, Chip immediately suspects Turn, and it seems, at least within the limited page count of the debut issue, that the series’ title refers to the confirmation of Chip’s own racial biases. “Vindication” could very well reverse course with a narrative rug pull within the next three issues, but at the moment, it seems as though Chip is the series’ main character when it should be Turn.

This doesn’t mean that stories about race cannot be told from the perspective of a police officer — the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” episode “Moo Moo” did so with nuance and insight. But so far, “Vindication” lacks clarity in its political intent, which leads it to read less like an exploration of systemic racism in the justice system and more like a run-of-the-mill police procedural. In fact, the series would likely have been better served by positioning itself as just that rather than aspiring to discuss an important political issue without the necessary forethought.

It’s worth noting that Top Cow Productions President and Chief Operating Officer Matt Hawkins co-created “Vindication” with Marie, so in that sense, it’s difficult to track which creative decisions are whose. But regardless, given the series’ debut during Black History Month, “Vindication” just seems like a missed opportunity.

One hopes that the series course-corrects in later issues, if nothing else, because of its potential. Marie’s dialogue is efficient in its exposition, and the writer gives Chip’s character an air of blind privilege that’s effective, even if it’s not the best direction for the series.

Additionally, the issue’s inking and coloring by Dema Jr. and Goncalves, respectively, create an aesthetic that’s steeped in grimy, muted colors, as if to convey the disreputability of Chip’s wrongheaded investigation. Similarly, Miko’s penciling is emotive, but at some points, the sequence of images from panel to panel isn’t always clear in conveying narrative trajectory.

In the final pages of “Vindication” No. 1, we see a preview of the next issue’s cover — Chip is at a shooting range and has a red target painted on a photo of Turn. It’s an image that summarizes the bungling of tone that “Vindication” has thus far presented. And as mentioned previously, the sympathy that the series implies for Chip could be a red herring, but as it stands, that doesn’t seem likely. For now, one would be better off watching Ava DuVernay’s “13th.”

Harrison Tunggal covers comic books. Contact him at [email protected].