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Review time! with The Deep: Here Be Dragons

Well, it's only three months late, but I'm finally going to start reviewing some of the comics I got in San Diego! How fun!

I wrote about visiting the Gestalt booth at the con, where they were nice enough to give me a bunch of free comics. It's always very nice to get free comics, and I apologize to the fine folk at Gestalt for taking so long in getting to them.

Over the next few days, however, it's all about their comics! First up: The Deep! It's written by Tom Taylor, drawn by James Brouwer, and costs a certain amount of money. Honestly, I can't find a price tag on it. Okay, to the Internet! ... here it is, it's $9.95. I assume that's honest, hard-working American dollars rather than beer-drinking, kanga-killing Australian dollars (seriously - Aussies have devices on the front of their trucks specifically to kill kangaroos ... now that's some bloodthirtiness I can get behind!), but as Gestalt is based in Oz, I can't be sure. I wonder what the exchange rate is. Man, I get distracted easily. I'm like that dog in Up.

The Deep is quite a good comic book, but it has some problems that vex me. It's the first part of a serial, and while I don't have a problem with that, Taylor spends too much time in this book setting up the comic without really doing much with the main plot. It's frustrating, because this is a tantalizing book with a lot of potential, and it doesn't quite live up to it. Grrr!

Taylor's protagonists are the Nekton family - Will (dad), Kaiko (mom), Fontaine (daughter), and Antaeus ("Ant") (son), who zip around the ocean in their submarine, the Arronax, exploring and apparently getting into adventures. In this book, Will reads some reports about a "sea monster" off the coast of Greenland that he thinks might be a plesiosaur - as you may know and as Will explains to his children, a common theory these days is that plesiosaurs somehow survived from the Cretaceous period and are roaming the depths of the ocean even today. Given that humans know very little about what's going on down there, who can say they're wrong? Anyway, the Nektons head to Greenland to investigate. Adventures ahoy!

Taylor does a good job introducing the family - Ant and Fontaine have a sibling rivalry that feels genuine in that they bicker but don't actually hate each other, while Kaiko and Will have an easy intimacy that shows us a long-married and happy couple. Taylor does a very nice job with the dialogue - it boths reveals character and educates the reader on the mysteries of the deep, which is a nice trick.

The Nektons are a normal family that happens to explore the ocean, and Taylor does a good job with that - they tease each other, but they also know how to work together as a unit, which becomes important later in the book. Of course, they need an enemy, and Taylor introduces a television reporter named Trish, a stereotypical sensationalistic bimbo who scares her viewers to get ratings. Trish is a bit cartoonish, but the sad thing about her is that she's not that off-the-charts - we can recognize several television personalities in her who do the exact same thing, and it makes her cartoonishness more real. The Nektons have dealt with Trish before - she fanned the flames of hysteria when they discovered a rare shark, causing people to hunt down every shark they could find. Taylor makes it very clear that she'll do the same thing if she discovers that there's a real "sea monster" off the coast of Greenland.

So that's the plot - the Nektons want to find out if there's an actual sea monster, but they soon realize that if they do find it, Trish will spread the word and even if it's not actually trying to kill anyone, it will be hunted down (there's another reason some people might want to find its domain, but I won't get into that). So far it's only been scaring the crap out of the fishermen, but that won't matter to Trish. So the family goes into the depths to look for it. I wonder if they find it?

Well, of course they do, and this is where the book breaks down a little. Taylor has done a nice job creating this tense atmosphere - the sea monster, the weird footage that doesn't show anything except a lot of water swamping the docks, the reporter who will twist the story just to get ratings, the dive into the deepest part of the North Atlantic, the confrontation with the creature ... and then, not much.

I won't give too much away, but Taylor doesn't follow through on this build-up the way we expect him to. In one way, that's a good thing - if we expect a resolution, it's often boring - but in the case of The Deep, we get hardly any resolution at all. The Nektons find the creature and they are in a bit of a pickle (obviously they get out of it), but after spending a good deal of time creating a human drama, Taylor takes almost a deus ex machina way out, and the big problem is - he doesn't even explain why it should be this way. I don't want to go into it more, but the deus ex machina is introduced early on and we even know that's how things will get resolved, but the Nektons never find out why. It's very frustrating. Then, at the end, we find out that the entire book was a set-up for the real reason the Nektons are exploring the ocean. Dum dum DUMMMMMM!!!!!

Now, I'm not frustrated that this is a serial and that the Nektons have a grand plan in mind. That's perfectly fine. However, I am a bit disappointed that this "chapter" didn't tell a complete story in a satisfactory manner. Taylor could have done the same thing with the ending and added a bit of excitement to the actual plot of this individual book. He was humming along, doing a nice job introducing all the elements and even setting up a big finish, and then he botched that. I will still like to read more chapters of this grand story, and I hope Taylor and Brouwer are committed to it, but that doesn't mean this isn't frustrating.

Speaking of Brouwer, his art is very nice. This is definitely an all-ages book, and Brouwer's art suits that tone. His characters' facial features are large and expressive, but their bodies are relatively normal-sized. As there's not a ton of action in this book, his characters need to help tell the story, and they do nicely. Brouwer does something interesting with the coloring - he doesn't "light" the ocean just so we can see what's going on - the ocean is a dark, dark place, and what we can see when the Nektons are out in it is what their tiny lights illuminate.

This helps build the tension - who the heck knows what's lurking out there? - but also ties into Taylor's lack of an exciting resolution - Brouwer obviously has a giant sea monster in mind, but the final confrontation with it is strangely inert because we can't see what's going on. It's effective in some ways - at one point all we see are giant, sharp teeth appearing out of the darkness - but it's hard to see how, exactly, what happens when the Nektons are about to be killed - a dramatic moment, to be sure, but one that loses some of its impact. It's a dicey balance - on the one hand, Brouwer does a very nice job showing how dark the ocean really is, but on the other hand, a visual medium demands that we can at least see some of what's going on. Brouwer's linework is strong, though, and it's interesting that he colors the things in the depth so that they look more painted - it gives them an eerie, alien appearance in contrast with the more decisive lines of the characters and the man-made items.

I enjoyed The Deep: Here Be Dragons quite a bit and look forward to more installments of the Nektons' adventures. That Taylor messes up the ending a bit is mitigated by the fact that he's telling a bigger story and the sea monster has a role to play in that. If you can ignore the ending (which you might like, for all I know), you'll get a fascinating story with very interesting characters. That ain't bad at all.

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