Living high up in a city-state built in a tree, Craig Mayerik has never really come face-to-face with the people who live down below, and contend every day with the soul-sucking Hollows. But all that soon changes — with potentially life-changing consequences — in this very promising first issue from IDW.
Written by Chris Ryall
Illustrated by Sam Kieth
An all-new series from the creator of The Maxx and the co-creator of Zombies vs Robots!
Sam Kieth and Chris Ryall transport you to a near-future Japan, where burned-out husks — the Hollows — wantonly devour souls throughout the city. Far above, a segment of society lives safely in giant tree-cities, but the problems below have a way of growing out of control.
Craig is a pretty busy guy, constantly at work on robotic and cybernetic projects that, he insists, are for the greater good of society. He lives in a relatively privileged position, and can usually rely on jet-pack fliers to procure provisions for him and his family. But one day he decides to take things into his own hands, and try on his own pair of wings — only to encounter those in far greater need than himself.
Chris Ryall’s writing is very graceful, particularly in terms of exposition. As you can probably tell, there’s a lot of world-building to do here, but it feels effortless, with a few captions relaying information about this world and the rest left for Craig to hint at in his comments (and, when he reaches the people below, his questions). The dialogue, meanwhile, reads very naturally, with Ryall using lots of parentheses and em dashes to convey the rhythms and wanderings of speech.
The emotion runs very high in this issue, hitting hard very early when Craig has a brief encounter with some people fleeing from the Hollows, and realizes that he can’t do anything to help them. Or thinks he can’t, anyway; he’s got a lot to learn over the course of this issue, and the ambiguity makes the scene all the more wrenching.
Laid out in skeleton, this story sounds like it could be a little preachy, but the way it’s managed here, it’s simply striking and emotional, in a way that never feels contrived or manipulative. Craig’s later encounters are compelling, and above all very human; he’s surprised by his own assumptions, while the people he meets have their fare share of presuppositions in regards to him. Still, Craig and the others manage to communicate, and learn a little from one another, edge by edge — making the ending of this issue all the more heartbreaking.
Kieth’s art has a lovely storybook quality, all sketchy in what looks like charcoal, ContÃ©, and a few washes of watercolour. In the best possible way, some pages feel like thumbnail sketches for more elaborate pages to come — there are even descriptive boxes that highlight loosely drawn elements and clarify what they are (e.g. “Hollows feeding on souls â†’ “). Bearing in mind that the chapter is called ‘Nara Imperfect’, the rough, unpolished quality suits the whole very well — and has got a unique flow and coherence of its own, all the while being very easy on the eyes.
The near-future world being portrayed, meanwhile, sprawls and staggers in all the right ways, with one panel — depicting the tree-city towering over the old, abandoned Kansai region — coming across like something out of an unusually beautiful dream. The Hollows themselves are wonderfully spooky, bringing to mind the work of Miyazaki as they split into gaunt human beings and merge into toothy monsters.
The only elements that doesn’t really work here are the sound effects. While Kieth’s art typically keeps to the greys and browns, these are done in bright orange and red, and stand out a little too much from everything else. Overall, though, Sam Kieth’s work here has struck the same balance as Ryall’s writing by telling us just enough, and implying the rest, making this a very smooth read overall.
Simply put, this is a highly inventive first issue, getting across so much while still feeling like something elegant and monumental. There’s no telling where it will take us next, but this already feels like an important story.
Final Verdict: 9.3 — Buy