The year: 1095. The place: Constantinople. The job: Break into the most heavily guarded library in Constantinople and steal four ancient texts unseen. The odds seem impossible and the challenges are daunting – – but it wouldn’t be much of an adventure otherwise. Caution, there be mild spoilers ahead.
Written by Brian Clevinger
Illustrated by Meredith McClaren
Colored by Shan Murphy
Lettered by Tess Stone
The Imperial Library of Constantinople, home of the world’s largest collection of knowledge, sits inside a maze locked in a fortress under constant guard. It’s up to our crew of thieves and con artists drawn from across the Byzantine Empire to get in, steal four incredibly valuable texts, and escape without being caught or killed. Don’t worry, it only sounds impossible. It’s the crime of the century—the 11th century!
I know exactly zilch about the “Atomic Robo” franchise and its spin off(?) “Real Science Adventures.” I don’t know how this series meshes with the others, if it has recurring characters or if it, like the “Lobster Johnson” minis, is only tangentially connected to the larger “Atomic Robo” universe. However, none of that matters because “The Nicodemus Job” appears to be an entirely self-contained narrative, one that aligns itself more in the tradition of the heist than the adventure, and it’s all the better for it.
Issue #2 concerns itself with my favorite tropes of the genre: reconnaissance, planning, and the narrated montage. It’s a slow pace, as much of the narrative is conveyed through the back and forth conversation between the heist crew members, but that works to the comic’s advantage. It allows Clevinger and McClaren to build the character’s personalities up and heighten the stakes. Despite the high stakes and cloud of revenge, there is a levity to the issue. Clevinger’s dialogue is timeless and breezy, bringing a light dusting of humor to the otherwise formal speaking characters. The rest of the humor comes from the talents of Meredith McClaren.
McClaren’s art does much of the heavy lifting when it comes to the interpersonal relationships and inner thoughts of the characters. While Clevinger’s words provide much of the driving force, plot wise, it is McClaren’s posing and facial expressions that communicate to us how and what everyone is feeling. Take the pages where Nicholas and crew are bouncing different scams off each other.
The dialogue is simple, with a bit of dry wit to it, and the paneling reflects this. Both pages are a six panel grid, with two rows of three. Each row is reserved for a different plan, starting with Emir, then going to Palatina, then Iskander. Panel one is the presentation of the scam, panel two is an imagined version of the it, and panel three is the presenter reconsidering after being presented with a problem. Then, on the fourth one, which by all accounts should be Sofana, Palatina who exclaims, “Let’s give them the Plague” to which the pattern is completely shattered by having a reaction shot of the rest of the crew to her idea. The reaction shot, too, is fantastic, showcasing varied reaction born from each of the character’s personalities. Nicholas is mildly shocked while Sofana is much more worried, her pupils constricted and her arms pushing back against the table. Iskander is petrified, expressing his distaste through crossed arms while Emir is intrigued but wary.
It’s McClaren’s simple art style that allows for this humor. Her lines are soft and her shapes are all rounded and flat, eschewing heavy inking lines and instead allowing the coloring to fill in the details and shading. The coloring, therefore, is essential to the comic which isn’t to say it wouldn’t have been otherwise, only that it is the coloring that provides the differentiation between the shapes, giving depth to the visuals. The coloring & character design also creates easy, visual markers for each character. At a glance, we know who everyone and where they are. There is no mistaking one character for another at a distance or when they’re abstracted.
The choice, however, for a flatter linework does lead to some panels that feel a bit off, where characters’ mouths are black voids that, rather than accentuating emotion, hinder it, leaving a character looking soulless, although not lifeless. However, these moments are few and far between.Continued below
Another aspect of “The Nicodemus Job” that I really appreciate is the sense of place that is conveyed through the backgrounds. Almost every panel has one, giving the world a solid feel of brick and walls and clutter. It’s a living, breathing city and we’re never allowed to forget.
One other thing I noticed is that each page, save for one, is six panels. It is a pattern that trains us to expect six transitions per page, six beats that vary in length but rarely in number. When they do, such as here during the investigation montage, it is noticeable and the page itself stands out as a transition both in time and in space.
“Real Science Adventures – The Nicodemus Job” #2 may be too slow for some people’s tastes. There is little action, focusing more on planning and stasis than motion, but what we get is engrossing and places us in the room with Nicholas and the gang. We’re learning as they do, feeling the ups and downs as a plan starts to come together. It’s going to be one hell of a ride and I’m glad I got on now.
Final Score: 8.0. “The Nicodemus Job” #2 is a heist plan gone right, with art that is oozing charm and humanity while keeping a solid grasp on the world around it.