With a coloring assist from Rose McClain, Gene Ha's successfully-funded Kickstarter effort completes its journey to comic shelves with the release of "Mae" #1. Mae is the little sister of the scarcely-seen Abbie, a former runaway who had apparently disappeared to a faraway world -- and who is also the focus of Ha's story, despite not appearing until midway through the issue. Ha sets up the basics of the tense relationship between the two sisters and makes it clear that Abbie has some mysterious and as-yet unexplored history, but the first issue is mainly an exposition-heavy, yet attractive introduction that was originally intended to be the first chapter of a graphic novel.
Ha's story kicks off with the introduction of Mae, who discovers her missing older sister's hidden stash of odd talismans and trinkets. The intro points to Abbie's strange and mysterious fascination, establishing her possible nature but also creating an unintended mystery surrounding the character herself; her return is communicated through a series of off-panel dialogue, yet Abbie herself isn't shown. Ha's structuring of this sequence implies there's some sort of secrecy about her, and -- as the story rolls along -- her continued absence feeds this building suspense. When she does finally appear, though, there's no grand entrance or big surprise of any kind; her casual walk-on is just that, and the presumed bubble of secrecy instantly bursts.
Ha uses Mae's interaction with her home-from-college friend Dahlia to establish the geek-girl nature of both women and the fact that the two are close friends. The banter between them goes on for a few pages, which is a page or two too long, as nothing more is really learned about them and their conversation becomes more like idle chatter. Ha's art really shines here, though; the doe-eyed look of his characters gives them some charm, and McClain's colors add a richness to Ha's textures. Ha also gives a peek at the otherworldly characters skulking about Mae's hometown, and his attempt at secrecy works much better here, as he and McClain show a darker and somewhat sinister mystery in the making.
At times, Ha's page and panel structure muddy the story somewhat; a sudden encounter between Mae, Dahlia and some locals is abruptly presented and the flow is poor through the page turn. A couple of panel reconstructions and perhaps a preemptive sound effect from letterer Zander Cannon would have made for a smoother and less contrived sequence. The potential conflict is quickly defused and the scene returns to Mae and Dahlia, who -- along with readers -- finally get to see Abbie, at which point Abbie reveals her very strange whereabouts.
Through Abbie, Ha recounts her recent adventures, something that would have been much more compelling had they been shown in a flashback sequence instead. By revealing so much verbally, the eventual and inevitable confrontation between the women and Abbie's very familiar foe is watered down tremendously, taking the charge out of Ha's story and diminishing its impact. Come issue's end, the answers to the mystery of Abbie's disappearance aren't terribly satisfying.
"Mae" #1 is nicely illustrated and populated with likeable characters, but the momentum of Ha's story is greatly slowed before it's even built up.