In Skinwalker, an FBI agent, just promoted to the profiling unit, investigates the disappearance of his first partner after a panicked phone call. Ann Adakai, a Navajo Tribal Police officer struggling with the conflict between respected tradition and law enforcement methods, finds herself aiding him. This graphic novel was written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir with pencils by Brian Hurtt and digital inking by Arthur Dela Cruz.
Skinwalking is a term for Navajo witchcraft, but someone’s been taking it literally, with skinned corpses showing up across the country. At first, Ann’s resistance to the agents, based on her conspiracy theories about them wanting to overrule her methods, seems exaggerated and oversensitive. It’s even more surprising when the reality turns out to be even more unbelievable than her fears.
The characters are better than the story they’re in. Revelations come fast and suddenly, and I get the impression that if I looked too closely at all of the plot points, the whole thing would unravel. I’d love to see more stories with the investigators, though; their personalities and interaction are immediately appealing.
They’re worthy of the best odd-couple pairings common to this genre. The setup and story remind me of similar movies or TV shows with the premise “he’s X, she’s Y, together, they’re detectives.” The writers have clearly put a lot of thought into their backgrounds, and I got the impression there was much more to them than made it to the page.
The cultural background is unusual and also attractive to the reader. Although the officer is conflicted about her own feelings towards tradition, she defends her people’s practices and strength to the overbearing FBI outsiders. The usual turf battles between the local peace officers and the big-wigs from Washington are made worse by their differences in belief. The book also explains these elements clearly and without patronizing.
Dela Cruz’s digital tones fill every inch of the page with shade. The result is a dark book, with the only white space to rest the eye being found in the word balloons. The text is generically typeset, which allows for different fonts for the different narration of the two main characters, but the all-capital dialogue would have more charm and warmth if it had been hand-lettered. As it is, it’s harsh and cheap-looking, especially when the lettering runs into the edges of the balloons. Hurtt’s art, though, provides plenty of welcome attitude and emotion. It’s a shame it’s so heavily overlaid.