Review time! with <i>No'Madd: City of Empty Towers</i>

Here's another comic I've had for a few months, and I'm finally getting around to reviewing it! Hooray for free time!

While I was wandering (like, indeed, a nomad) around the Rose City convention in September, I saw many wondrous comics, and I even bought some of them. One that seemed like an interesting one was No'Madd: City of Empty Towers, which the writer, Andrew Kafoury, was selling at his booth (it's true!). As one can never have too many comics, I decided to buy it. And now I have read it!

The artwork is split between Todd Herman, who draws the first part of the book, and Scott Roller, who draws the second part. You can find out more about the comic at the web site. Kafoury is selling it for 10 bucks, which is a pretty good deal.

No'Madd is a solid book, although it's not without its problems. It's Kafoury's first graphic novel, and he's apparently re-worked it somewhat from its original form (it was on-line before it was published, and he saw some issues people had with it then, I guess). You can tell it's by a raw creator, as some things don't work all that well, but it's also encouraging that Kafoury already knows some things that other writers seem to take longer to learn. One thing Kafoury tends to do well is trust his artists. The main character, No'Madd, does have an internal narration, but Kafoury doesn't abuse it, and his character also tends to be brooding, so he doesn't talk too much, which also helps. Kafoury doesn't overdo the words, as both Herman and Roller do their part to tell the story visually, which is nice. It leads to a lot of silent pages, but the artwork is usually up to it, and it makes the comic less of a verbose slog and more of an adventure.

Kafoury has stated that he wants to create a fantasy/science fiction all-ages world, and he succeeds pretty well. There's nothing objectionable for kids in the book, but Kafoury still packs a lot of adventure and excitement into the book. No'Madd kicks butt in the book, but in a fairly clean manner - there's some giant bug blood in the book, but that's about the worst you'll see here.

The science fiction part of the book sneaks in through the back door - this feels very much like a fantasy book early on, with a tribe living with limited technology (meaning: no electricity, no gunpowder, that sort of thing) and a lone man going on a quest. He's sent on the quest when a "vessel" falls out of the sky, but Kafoury doesn't linger on the crashed thing, and it's only later in the book that Kafoury blends the standard fantasy trappings of the book with a more sci-fi bent. It's interesting, because those two genres aren't blended too often, and not in a book that takes the fantasy aspects as far as Kafoury does - it would really be like aliens landing a gleaming space ship in the middle of Gondor or something. No'Madd is sent on his quest to find the owners of the crashed ship - the old seer who sends him claims that there are more intruders threatening the land - and it takes him to a far continent that is surrounded by legends, where he discovers an alien presence. Kafoury does some very interesting things with the two genres - No'Madd and his tribe are governed by their gods, who may or may not be alien beings fighting against the "intruders." Kafoury leaves this deliberately vague, which is the right thing to do. Stories are much more interesting when they can be interpreted different ways, so the stories of the gods and spirits that No'Madd knows could just be fiction, tales of actual gods and spirits, or stories of aliens that his tribe processes as stories of gods. This is also, oddly enough, a superhero origin story, and Kafoury does a pretty good job disguising that until it's time for No'Madd to kick butt. A hero's quest is not the most original way to go, obviously, but it's also not a terrible way to go, as hero's quests are usually pretty entertaining, and No'Madd has to fight giant bugs, a ninja, a bizarre sea creature, robots, and aliens on his quest, which is a pretty wide gamut. Kafoury doesn't let No'Madd sit still for too long, so even as he's filling in his back story, he keeps the narrative moving along briskly. we're fairly confident that No'Madd won't be dispatched in this comic (Kafoury does plan more books about the character), but our hero is still put in some perilous situations, and he doesn't always triumph.

Kafoury's collaborators, Herman and Roller, are solid. They have different styles, but neither are out of place in a fantasy/sci-fi setting, although I wonder if Kafoury planned to go with Herman the entire way and couldn't get together with him, or if he planned to switch artists in the middle of the book.

There's a clear demarcation between the two, and it seems that Herman is a bit better with the more natural setting of the first part of the book while Roller's somewhat stiff lines give the city of Platu, where the second half of the book occurs, an archaic, decrepit, and haunted feel, which is what Kafoury is going for there. Herman's thick, bold lines make No'Madd's world rough and raw, and its people fit that pretty well. He does action a bit better than Roller, so No'Madd's battle against the giant bugs and the ninja are a bit better choreographed than his fight against the robots and aliens. In the second chapter, No'Madd is trying to sail across a treacherous stretch of water, and Herman's paints and/or magic markers help make the ocean a great, roiling foe. Roller's detailed buildings give Platu a vastness of its own, but it's an eerie and even claustrophobic vastness, as if the rocks are closing in on No'Madd yet they stretch for miles, making his escape unlikely. Roller's layouts when No'Madd learns of his true destiny are terrific, as he really brings home the epic scope of what Kafoury is trying to do in the book. No'Madd is connected to his world, but also worlds beyond his own, and Roller nails that feeling really well. Both artists are fairly raw, but they both do a decent job with what they're asked to do.

The book isn't great, though, because Kafoury doesn't quite make everything clear. He noted on his web site that he re-wrote parts of it because it was too "incoherent," and I guess he cleaned some of that up, but ... some of it is still confusing. I don't want to give too much away, but Kafoury makes one big mistake when he explains a very important plot point ... in a brief poem that comes before the title page. Now, it's possible that in earlier versions, this plot point was part of the "incoherence" of the book and Kafoury decided to just spell it out, but it does seem a bit strange, as he does a decent job with it in the book and probably could have added just a little bit more to explain it better. It's frustrating, because it's a big part of No'Madd's transformation and it's almost a literal deus ex machina moment in the script. The other weird thing is what happens at the end of Chapter One and the beginning of Chapter Two. No'Madd ends Chapter One in a pretty dire spot, but at the beginning of Chapter Two, he's on the other side of the continent, completely fine, ready to head off across the water.

He barely acknowledges that he was in some trouble at the end of the previous chapter, and Kafoury never tells us how he got out of it. It's vexing. The alien intrusion onto No'Madd's world seems a bit lacking, too, as they barely have a presence at Platu. Wouldn't they be there in force more, given what No'Madd learns about their purpose on the planet? These are minor complaints, I suppose, but they do weaken the overall narrative, as they raise too many questions, and when you're reading something like this, it helps to have very few questions about the nuts and bolts of the story so you can contemplate the more metaphysical aspects of the comic.

That's why I don't love No'Madd, although it is entertaining. For a neophyte comic writer, it's a good start, as it shows that Kafoury has some good ideas as well as the ability to work in the medium, which we've seen some other new writers struggle with because they think they're writing prose with some pictures. Kafoury works well with his artists, creates a pretty interesting world that has a lot of storytelling possibilities (I mean, what's the deal with the giant bugs, anyway?). His writing is a bit dramatic, which works better in a story like this than it would in other places, so the overwrought prose doesn't hurt too much, although it does stand out. No'Madd is married and has a child, but his son isn't too big a player in this book, so No'Madd remains kind of an emotional enigma. Again, that's not too big a deal, as epics aren't really about emotional resonance but the doing of epic deeds, but I do wonder if Kafoury will explore his relationships more in subsequent installments. But for now, No'Madd is a flawed but interesting mash-up of two genres that don't cross over too often, and Kafoury does a solid job with it. It's a nice-looking comic, and it's a pretty good deal. You can contact Kafoury if you're interested in getting it - I'm sure he'd be happy to oblige!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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