I usually don't review books that don't come out for two months, but I'll tell you why I'm doing it under the cut, if you dare read on!
I mentioned Thanatos Diver (from Th3rd World Studios) in my latest Previews run-down, because I enjoyed Nick Tapalansky's and Alex Eckman-Lawn's Awakening a few years ago and thought it was noteworthy that they were teaming up for an all-ages comic.
Tapalansky got in touch with me and asked me if I would be willing to read the first issue and write about it, as the cut-off for pre-ordering it is in two days - the 18th of September - and pre-orders for any small-press book determine its future. It sucks, but such is life. So the question is: Should you pre-order it? Is it worth your $3.99?
Well, it's pretty good. It has some issues, but not too many, and it offers some intriguing possibilities. Tapalansky sets the book on Cervaile Island, which is kind of an odd place. On the one hand, it seems fairly primitive, as the people live very simply, but they also have some high-tech stuff like mini-submarines, so there's an odd tension in the comic that leads me, at least, to question quite a bit about it, like how big the island is, how they sustain themselves, what their form of government is, that sort of thing. Obviously, it's not too important (or is it?!?!?), but things like this bug me.
Anyway, a teenager named Samantha is the star of our story, as we're introduced to her when she's younger and her mother finds a submarine on the beach. Years later, she's working for her father in salvage, and she's engaged in a rivalry with another girl named Jade. During one of their contests, Jade finds something that Samantha knows comes from the "forbidden zone," so she goes out into the zone to find something cooler. While she's there, she discovers something even more fantastic, but I'm not going to say more about it, because it's the climax of the issue and it's kind of neat.
The reason I don't love it completely is because Tapalansky uses a lot of familiar stuff in the book, so the set-up feels a bit too much like something we've read before.
Samantha has an older sister, Maggie, and in the first few pages, when Samantha is younger, we see that they have a very contentious relationship, like sisters often do. When Samantha is a teenager, she yearns to leave the island and implies that Maggie herself managed this feat. It's not clear if this is something impressive or not, because if it's not, why doesn't Samantha just wait a few years and leave herself? I guess we can chalk it up to "being a teenager," but the undercurrent of the book seems to imply that people just don't leave Cervaile Island, although I suppose I could be reading too much into it. Of course, Samantha is a rebellious teenager who doesn't listen to her father when he specifically tells her to stay out of the Forbidden Zone, because that's how the story has to go. There's a certain inevitability to the first issue, which is frustrating because we know, as readers, that we have to get to the point at the end of the issue, and Tapalansky uses tropes that we know very well. That doesn't make it bad, just very familiar. And where he gets us by the end of the book is interesting, which does forgive quite a bit of the way we got there.
If we go beyond the basic storytelling, however, Tapalansky does a nice job with Samantha - she's a pain in the butt teenager, and he does a very good job with that. She has a quick wit, and she and Jade have a nice, barb-filled exchange when they're competing. Yes, she's extremely annoying, but she's a teenager, and Tapalansky manages to make her somewhat interesting despite her character traits. He knocks her down a few pegs once or twice, and while he doesn't dwell on it, he does a nice job with her yearning for a different life off the island, which puts her obnoxious behavior in a bit of context. I'm curious to see what he continues to do with Samantha and her personality as she's confronted with this weird challenge that arrives at the end of the issue.
Eckman-Lawn's art is interesting, because it's a bit different from the last time I saw it. He uses heavy lines to create a cartoonish look, which fits the tone of the book well. He gives his characters large, expressive eyes, which allows him to sell the extreme emotions Samantha experiences in the book, and he uses the tried-and-true method of distorting Samantha's mouth a few times to show when she's really, really angry. His depiction of the island fits in with the way Tapalansky sees it - he draws rough-looking huts and people wearing shabby clothing, yet it's obvious the islanders have some forms of advanced technology. His underwater scenes are neat - he creates a strange world and uses very few lines to imply the flora that has grown up over the submerged buildings off the coast (which is an entire other mystery). The colors in the book are wonderful, as Eckman-Lawn uses beautiful warm colors for the scenes on the island, painting in clouds tinged with nostalgic orange and pinks, setting them off against a painfully blue sky. Underwater, he uses deeper blues, adding to the weirdness of the landscape. It's not a terribly original color palette, but it is gorgeous, and that's really what counts.
It's unfortunate that this is a set-up issue, because it ends just when it's getting interesting (well, the artifact that Jade finds is interesting, I guess). Tapalansky, of course, has to introduce the characters, and now that that's out of the way, I expect the book to get much more fascinating, because there's obviously plenty of mysteries to delve into. So should you pre-order it? I'd say yes, because while it's not a great comic, it points toward quite an interesting story, and while I'd usually say wait for the trade, in this case a trade might never show up. For me, Tapalansky and Eckman-Lawn don't have a long track record, but I do trust them a little, so I think that despite this first issue being a bit familiar, it's still a comic that's intriguing enough to warrant more reading.
If you want to pre-order it, it's in Previews right now, or you can go to the web site I linked to above to find out more. I might not give it a ringing endorsement, but I do think it's worth your time.