“Debris” #1 written by Kurtis J. Wiebe with art by Riley Rossmo and Owen Gieni, is high-concept and gorgeously illustrated, but it falls short on pacing and characterization, especially for a first issue of a miniseries.
“Debris” refers to the garbage that covers the Earth, as humanity reaps the results of environmental neglect. The story is set in Maiden, home to the last vestiges of the human race. It’s a typical fictional civilization on the brink, continuously threatened by scarcity. As “Debris”#1 unfolds, it is clear that a familiar scifi/fantasy narrative arc will be the path to civilization’s salvation. There is a young hero/chosen one, an older mentor, a meddling paternalistic ruler, a threat and an inevitable quest.
Wiebe peppers this traditional template story with allusions such as Jormungand (a sea serpent in Norse mythology), umbrals (roughly meaning “shadows” in Latin) and Athabasca (the Cree name for a Canadian Lake, meaning “grass or reeds here and there.”)
Unfortunately, “Debris” isn’t as rich a story its references might suggest, at least so far. It’s a four-issue miniseries and narrative space is precious, so Wiebe can’t afford to devote an entire issue to set-up — yet he does. “Debris” heavily relies on visual display to the point that the writing serves the art instead of driving the storytelling. There are pages and pages of bright landscapes and fierce action sequences, but dialogue balloons and text boxes are few and far between.
By contrast, the artwork of “Debris” #1 is beautiful. Riley Rossmo’s pencils of Colossals have mesmerizing details rendered with a sure, crisp line. Colorist’s Owen Gieni’s work is brilliant. His use of surreally vibrant cerulean blues, rust reds and yellow golds make the setting look almost tropical despite Maiden’s total lack of vegetation and desperate need for water. In one scene, a translucent, pale green outline of Jormungand’s spirit breaks free from his junk form and the excellent panel composition and cool night colors showcase Rossmo’s and Gieni’s complementary artistic strengths.
Ironically, however, Rossmo’s pencils focus far more on the landscape and monsters rather than the human characters, which are all that remains of organic life in Maiden. Backgrounds are incredibly detailed, but characters’ bodies look like wooden puppets and body language and facial expressions are likewise stiff.
As a result of both artistic and narrative deficiencies, “Debris” #1 has a serious lack of character development and emotional resonance. Every character is paper-thin and completely reliant on archetype. For example, in a twist that will surprise no one, the mentor dies and passes a torch to the hero, complete with quest instructions whispered urgently while dying with stilted, contrived and sparse dialogue.
Wiebe’s elevator pitch for “Debris” was “‘Red Sonja’ meets ‘Transformers,'” and “Debris” does have a superficial visual relationship with those properties. Yes, there’s a red-haired warrior lass who fights giant metallic creatures, but it’s other, lesser-mentioned influences of “Princess Mononoke” and “Wall-E” that have a deeper connection to “Debris.” In particular, the idea of angry nature gods is straight out of “Mononoke,” and like “Wall-E,” “Debris” makes a world covered in garbage look entrancing and inviting. The themes of “Debris” — water as the source of life, nature having its retribution and the troubled relationship between the land and the people — also have a direct line to the two animated films.
With characterization and plotting already plodding, it’s likely that thematic development in “Debris” will get only the most cursory of treatment. By itself, “Debris” #1 leans on the baggage of its influences as a crutch, rather than unpacking it. Three-quarters of the miniseries remains, though, so perhaps the weaknesses of the story will be remedied later.