I first learned of Spontaneous back in December of 2010, when the 2011 Free Comic Book Day titles were announced. The premise of the series- a young man trying to find out the truth behind his father's death by spontaneous combustion- instantly intrigued me, and I mentally put the comic at the top of my to grab list. But, for whatever reason, when Free Comic Book Day rolled around, my store didn't have any copies. I ran by another local comic shop on my way home, but they hadn't ordered Spontaneous either. It wasn't until a few months ago, when Spontaneous #3 was released, that I got to a chance to give the series a look. I read the first three issues of the comic in quick succession, and read the final 2 issues on the day of their release.
Whenever I have to wait longer than expected to experience something, it takes on a higher level of importance with me. I've gotten so used to instant gratification that even a few extra months of waiting can make something feel really significant and special. Spontaneous is a book I probably never would've known about had it not received that extra promotion, and it would've been easy for it to fall short of my inflated expectations. But somehow, even though it's a fairly strange, unusual comic, it managed to be almost everything I thought it would it would.
Spontaneous deals with human combustion in an unique and compelling way. After his father died of spontaneous combustion on his third birthday, Melvin Reyes has become obsessed with combustion and what might be the cause behind it. He goes out of his way to track potential victims of combustion and to observe what happens to them. There's a little bit of a Lovecraftian feel to the way these victims meet their demise- Melvin describes them as being hypnotized, as knowing what's coming but unable to do anything about it. A few of the cases alluded to are genuinely chilling, and have stuck around in my mind long since I first read about them.
But while creepy combustion stories are a big part of this tale, it's a character driven story at its heart. Eccentric would-be reporter Emily Durshmiller is an absolute blast to read, even if she's a little less fleshed out than I would have liked her to be. Melvin is just normal enough to be effective as the book's main character, but off-balance enough that the reader doesn't necessarily feel like they can trust his viewpoint. We're given a clear understanding of how Melvin came to be the person that he is, and he feels sympathetic even in his most disturbing moments. Together, the two of them feel like a more peculiar Mulder and Scully, and their relationship remains interesting as the series progresses. Some of the more minor characters in the comic feel a bit flat, but these two breathe life into every page they're in.
This would be a completely different comic if it featured more traditional looking art, and Brett Weldele's pages do as much to set the tone of the story as Joe Harris' writing does. I especially love his coloring techniques, which make every page look like an overexposed photograph. His style is often sparse and simple, but his faces are still wonderfully emotive, especially when it comes to Emily. If I had to compare him to someone, it'd be Ben Templesmith, especially his work on Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse . He does an amazing job building up the comic's tenser moments, and adds some nice little details to the book in spite of its sparse backgrounds.
My biggest complaint about Spontaneous is that the final issue just wasn't as good as its penultimate one. Issue #4 was full of excitement, featured some of the best dialogue in the entire series, and had some really satisfying reveals. The ending in issue #5 didn't fall flat, but it failed to live up to what we'd gotten in the issue before, and made it harder to appreciate even the strong moments of the issue. There were many things I would have liked to see more of- like Kenny, Melvin's mother, his father's relationship with Grumm,- that the series only touched upon, and other things it wasted too much time on. I could've done without the character of Kaylie entirely. Still, there were a few moments in the book's finale that made me want to cheer, and I was ultimately satisfied by the series.
I'd recommend Spontaneous to readers looking for a finite story that deals with the supernatural without delving into superheroics. Some fairly crazy things happen over the course of Spontaneous, but the series always feels grounded in reality, which is something I think a lot of people out there will appreciate. The series isn't without its problems, but it's a solid read, and the sort of title I'd love to see more people supporting. If you think you might want to give Spontaneous a try, you can read the first issue for free here.