“Lookouts” #5, by Ben McCool and Robb Mommaerts, continues the saga of the Lookouts’ mission to free the Eyrewood of the cryptic sphinx that has been waylaying, riddling and eating travelers. It also continues interweaving the main tale with flashbacks to the early lives of the various Lookouts, this time focusing on Boli. Though “Lookouts” was plagued by long delays and missed ship dates after its first issue came out — this week’s issue is dated February 2013 — it now appears to be on schedule; unfortunately, the art seems to have suffered slightly to make this happen.
Story-wise, “Lookouts” #5 is a bit on the thin side. Its main focus is on Boli, a young Lookout who has the mysterious power to turn invisible when he’s under stress. A good half of the issue tells how he discovered this power, a fairly predictable tale that could have been easily condensed, though it nicely foreshadows a character who will hopefully return in later issues. That doesn’t leave much time for the Lookouts to do anything, and they don’t, really — there’s a lot of talk, but no real action in this issue. There are some nice character moments as the Lookouts lick their wounds after their whupping at the paws of the sphinx last issue, though; it’s nice to see hints that the Lookouts will change and grow in meaningful ways as the series continues. One of the strengths of the series is the obvious depth that’s gone into the setting of the Eyrewood, and it would be a shame to have static characters in such a rich world.
Given the YA simplicity of the characters thus far, a huge part of the appeal of the first few issues of “Lookouts” was Mommaerts’ art. His monster designs are cartoony enough to fit the all-ages vibe of the comic, but capture something fundamental about the creatures they depict: the troll looks rude and stupid, the sphinx grand and terrifying. The same can be said of his people; each character has a clear body language that matches his personality. These designs survive into issue #5, as do Rainer Petter’s fabulous, rich colors, which make the Eyrewood look suffused with magic.
Where the art seems to have suffered, perhaps from the pressure of hitting a regular ship schedule, is in its level of detail. Earlier issues feature immensely rich views of towns, houses and woods, packed with little details like creatures and objects that make the setting come to life. These are missing from issue #5; for example, Lookouts master Samson’s meeting with the grand elder is shown in a series of closeups that hide the detail of the grand elder’s hut that was revealed in issue #1. Similarly, conversation scenes in the Lookouts’ hut often use simple gradient backgrounds, giving the impression that the characters are chatting in a formless void. This is a shame, but also because it destroys any sense of space within these interior scenes. That being said, Mommaerts’ art is still expressive and fun, and when big, detailed panels do appear, they’re as evocative as ever.
Even if “Lookouts” #5 doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the first issue or two, it’s still well worth a read. This particular issue is a bit thin on story and art, but the creators clearly have a plan, and the mystery of the sphinx is a powerful driver. The art is only lacking when compared to the high standard set by the series’ debut, and with any luck the preview luscious detail will return as the issue’s ship schedule normalizes.