Today, Ryan D and Michael are discussing World Reader 1, originally released April 19th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Ryan D: The history of storytelling has always fascinated me. The beginnings are a bit fuzzy, of course, because people told stories well before writing developed, but I think of those people charged with telling the stories gathering crowds around fires, reciting tales to make the darkness just a bit more bearable and less scary. Bards, shapers, soothsayers, priests of all kinds, judges, and rulers used stories to specific ends, or to keep a finger on the proud pulse of their specific peoples’ traditions. Nowadays, when I’m struggling to learn a two-minute monologue, I think of those storytellers who used dramatic conventions like stock epithet and repetition to recall epic tales which took days to tell. The tradition of the storyteller, thus, places a great burden on the one who takes up the mantle. Smudge a detail and an entire history is skewed, forget a line and a whole era of tradition could be lost. World Reader 1 deals with this heavy sentence which the storyteller bears, and in itself begins telling a very tightly composed story.
It struck me very quickly how efficient writer Jeff Loveness constructed this first issue. Not having read him before, my expectations were slim, but I appreciate how quickly the writer made the comic’s thesis plain. The first page opens with the immortal question: are we, humans, alone in this universe? This question is answered only a page after simply and quickly:
The mix of the familiar (i.e. gates and architecture) with the strange (an alien landscape featuring an atmosphere unfriendly to human consumption) strikes home while quickly forcing the reader to ask the next logical question: if there was life concurrent with us, then what happened? The comic is ready to take us on that journey, but first it must establish how we’ll do that, and who it is doing it.
The how comes in the form of our lead character Sarah’s ability to commune with the dead and hear their stories. As someone who can’t draw a bit, I am always impressed when an artist — in this case Juan Doe — can illustrate a very dynamic process in a medium based around static visual imagery. Doe establishes Sarah’s clairvoyance by using a dramatic change in background, an effect around her eyes, and often some fun psychedelic lineation around her. The mechanic looks great, but I also need to nod to colorist Rachel Deering here. So much of this issue would fall flat without her touch. Take this page — part of one of Sarah’s many looks into the past trying to connect with the former residents — for example:
Just a small misstep on Deering’s part could make this page confusing or look flat and uninteresting, when instead we see a planet which keeps its own character even within the filter of Sarah’s vision mechanic. Simultaneously, Loveless gives readers a simple, clear narrative to follow from the people lost, which helps to not muddy the overarching plot but also plays into the idea that Sarah connects with the dead by a means beyond language, bypassing the fallacy of translation and spoken word, in a way which not even relics and runes can duplicate.
By the end, what I can only imagine is the primary antagonist is established: a creature whose mission it is to consume the people that were, and all their stories within. At first, I worried that this title could end up as merely a fun sci-fi travelogue as Sarah documents the lost tales of dead civilizations; however, now the stakes rise as we learn that there is a ticking clock and a mind or motive behind the disappearances of sentient life in the galaxy. Similar to the first arc in Jason Aaron’s classic Thor: God of Thunder series, “The God Butcher”, audiences now have the space set for a mystery which allows the narrative to leap backwards and forwards in time, all while showcasing the imagination of a writer and their artistic team while they further develop the universe.
Michael, there are plenty of sci-fi spacey comics floating around out there right now. Do you think World Reader 1 bring enough in its initial outing to differentiate itself from the competition? Also, I didn’t have a chance to talk about the who involved in this premiere issue. Does the cast of characters strike you as deep enough to support what could be a very large, sprawling story?
Michael: Based on what we’re shown here I think it’s still a little too early to judge the depth of the cast of characters. Our astronaut heroes are Sarah, Harris and “The Captain” — I don’t think he’s actually given a full name. Since she’s the protagonist of the book, Sarah is given the most characterization. As the eponymous “World Reader” Sarah’s main characterization is that she can talk to the ghosts of the dead planets her team visits. Sarah is hated by her superior officer and only slightly humored by her partner Harris.
It seems like when a hero delves in the paranormal they tend to be a bit of an outcast, doesn’t it? Sarah’s team explores new worlds and uses her strange ability to communicate with the dead in order to find out just what happened. The Captain and Harris might not like or fully understand Sarah’s abilities but they need them. We don’t get a whole lot of backstory on Sarah but it’s clear that when she connects with the little alien girl’s memories, she mentions how “home always lets you down.”
I’d wager that Sarah’s not sending postcards from space to her family on Earth.
The Captain and Harris are pretty thinly-developed at this point: The Captain is the hardheaded leader and Harris is the semi-reluctant sidekick. However, I’ll give credit to Loveness for presenting clear philosophies for each of the three astronauts. Sarah is the gifted hero who expects the worse, Harris is an optimist who’d rather believe in something than nothing at all and The Captain is a man whose bright-eyed career dreams have been dashed. That last one is hard to judge really, because Harris is the one who attributes said philosophy to him.
Regardless, that’s some potent imagery that Harris cooks up for us. While we aren’t all astronaut pioneers-turned-gravediggers, many of us can relate to having an idealistic dream crash into reality. Harris’s summation of The Captain is juxtaposed well over Juan Doe’s pencils. The vastness of space is always an excellent metaphor for loneliness and solitude, and when combined with Harris’ words The Captain looks absolutely joyless.
We are introduced to the realm of World Reader as a universal graveyard. Sarah’s team has been traveling from dead planet to dead planet with no clue what caused the destruction. The planet the team explores in World Reader 1 seems to answer that question, as Sarah encounters a Grim Reaper/Galactus type that has been “killing life.”
This leads me to a few questions. First, we are to assume that Sarah has been using her space John Edward powers to commune with the dead of other planets, right? If no, then why do Harris and The Captain act like this is a normal — if not regrettable — part of the job? If yes, then why haven’t any of the other ghosties warned Sarah about the big bad Space Grim Reaper? Those two premises are kind of at odds with one another. Either Space Grim Reaper took all the space souls from the other planets — meaning that Sarah couldn’t talk with them — or the ghosties just neglected to inform Sarah of how their planet met their doom.
As for Space Grim Reaper himself — we’ll have to wait until Loveness provides us with a better name — he is also reminiscent of a Freddy Krueger type. The little girl that Sarah talks to is the remaining survivor of Space Grim Reaper’s attack, until he spots her and takes her, too. Sarah escapes by “waking up” to the physical realm that Harris exists in. I’m curious to see how/when Space Grim Reaper crosses over from the other side to cause further trouble for our team.
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Paranormal, by definition, isn’t normal. Which makes it the perfect genre to tell stories about alienation, stories about outcasts. People who don’t fit into the ordinary. The paranormal is a metaphor for the way we feel disconnected and alienated. Though I wonder if you could pull off a paranormal story with an ordinary person, where the point is that because they don’t feel alienated, they find it impossible to make that connection to the Other than is so important in paranormal stories. Or would they stop being a paranormal story, and start being a horror story?
Also, this looks interesting. Will keep an eye on it, and may pick it up later as a trade