I’m kind of hesitant to review this, because it’s a book very much in the middle of a storyline, but what the heck – Campbell needs more press, doesn’t he, and it can’t all come from Kelly T.!
I enjoyed Shadoweyes, the first chapter of Ross Campbell’s latest epic, so I eagerly picked up the second one. I was kind of hoping that each book would be a story unto itself, but Campbell is telling a longer story, which is far more obvious in this book than it was in the first one, so there’s that. That’s not to say it’s not a good comic, but if you get Shadoweyes in Love without getting the first volume, you might be a bit lost.
That’s just the way it is, man! This comic, by the way, is published by the wonderful folk at SLG and costs $12.95. We’re all about boilerplate here at the blog!
Campbell picks up the story soon after the end of the first volume, as Scout (Shadoweyes) happens upon Noah (the hunky dude who’s dating Kyisha) beating up some punks. He’s been inspired by her vigilantism to go out on his own, which causes all sorts of issues among the other principals in the series (Scout, Kyisha, and Sparkle). Noah and Scout start working together occasionally, which makes Sparkle angry because she wants to team up with Shadoweyes. Noah realizes that Kyisha isn’t happy about vigilantes in general, so he decides to tell her what he’s doing, but she doesn’t mind as much when it’s her hunky boyfriend out vigilanting. And, of course, because they’re working together, Scout and Noah begin to have feelings for each other. It’s only natural, but will they act on those feelings? WILL THEY?!?!?!?
This description might make the book sound like a sappy soap opera, but it’s not. First of all, it’s set in Dranac, Campbell’s post-apocalyptic, dystopic city of the future, so right away the setting makes the book less sappy and more brutally realistic. Second, Campbell refuses to let the characters be sappy – they’re complex and conflicted and act far more like real people than most soap opera characters. Finally, the über-plot, while not as clear-cut as it could be (not that there’s anything wrong with that), is a compelling story that builds throughout the book to a fairly tense ending, promising more resolutions in the next volume. All of this means that the soap opera, such as it is, works very well within the context of the book.
Campbell is very good at creating teenaged characters, which, given how screwed-up teenagers tend to be, is pretty impressive. All of his characters have distinctive personalities and voices, which makes their decision-making, as odd as it often is, seem far more naturalistic than in many comics. In mainstream books, characters often violate their established personalities simply because editorial and plot diktats demand it. In Campbell’s hands, characters make strange decisions that appear to violate their core principles, but which can be explained by looking at context.
Kyisha, for instance, is angry that Scout and Noah (when she finds out) are out being vigilantes, because she seems to think that problems can be solved without violence. However, she busts a guy in the teeth for touching her, in a moment that seems hypocritical. But Kyisha has her own issues with gender and sexuality, and the guys who were hounding her pushed the wrong (or, I suppose, right) buttons with her. Meanwhile, she’s willing to forgive Noah his vigilantism but not Scout’s, because she digs Noah’s hot bod and is falling away from Scout as a friend. Such are the vagaries of teenaged existence (and, to an extent, adult existence, but in teenagers they’re exacerbated by the raging hormones). Meanwhile, Sparkle is jealous because Scout is hanging out with Noah, but Scout has a very good reason for it: Sparkle simply can’t take care of herself, and Noah can. Sparkle, of course, takes her time understanding this – she just sees Shadoweyes rejecting her for the hunk, and doesn’t like it. Scout herself veers between logical reasons for doing things and absolutely petty reasons, especially with regard to Kyisha, whom she treats poorly by the end of the book. Even as a reader might be shaking his or her head at the disastrous courses of action the main characters take, Campbell makes sure that we understand them and see them from everyone’s point of view. No one is perfect, no one is evil, and everyone can justify their actions. That doesn’t make them right, or smart, but it does make them believable.
Toward the end of the book, Campbell begins to ratchet up the plot points, as Shadoweyes begins to lose the sympathy of the city, Noah is stalked by a weird gang, and the mummy girl from volume 1 turns up again. By this time, we’re invested so much in the characters that the plot feels more immediate and serious, even the petty action Scout takes against Kyisha. So while the plot might be secondary in this volume, Campbell has done such a good job with the characters that we’re extremely invested by the time it does show up. Luckily, Campbell isn’t quite as beholden to the whims of the market as other creators (I’m sure he’d like this to sell, but, you know, reality says it won’t), so he can do stuff like this and not worry about angry people demanding yet another fight between Hal Jordan and Sinestro.
Campbell’s art is amazing as always, from the scary industrial landscape of Dranac, which continues to be claustrophobic even though it’s sprawling, to the wonderful interactions between characters. Even more so than a lot of characters, teens speak with their body language as much as their mouths, and Campbell does a fantastic job letting the characters’ bodies do a lot of their communicating.
We can almost hear the shifts in vocal tones as the characters become more earnest or sarcastic, and I, for one, admire Scout’s restraint in not punching Sparkle in the face, because I can “hear” Sparkle’s voice in my head so well, and it’s not pleasant. Campbell does this not only with the words Sparkle uses, but the way he draws her eager-to-please face and her exaggerated hurt-feelings face. Kyisha, as gorgeous as she is, shifts easily into scornful mode, and Campbell is very good at giving Shadoweyes a full range of emotions even though her face has become so alien. The action scenes are also very well done – fluid and dynamic and easily read even in the cramped atmosphere of the Dranac alleys. As with the last book, the only problem I had with the book is that Sparkle seems so much younger than Noah, Kyisha, and even Scout, so I wonder why they all go to school together. I mean, I know there’s a huge difference between ninth-graders and twelfth-graders, but it seems like Sparkle is even younger than that. But it doesn’t bother me too much.
Campbell’s work has improved, art-wise, quite a bit over the years (I haven’t read his early stuff, but I’ve looked through it), and his writing on this series is very good. I’m not sure if I love Shadoweyes as much as Kelly does (she’s quoted on the back of this volume), but I like it very much. Story-wise, this does feel like a bridge between the first and third volumes, but Campbell’s character work and his art is so good that I don’t care. It’s a fine comic, and I look forward to the next volume (I refuse to read it online, because I’m olde-skool, man!). Go check it out for yourself!