In many ways, “White Sand” Volume Two is almost exactly the same as its predecessor. It shares many of the same weaknesses and most of the strengths of Volume One. Volume Two also has some problems that are unique to it, particular in the quality and consistency of the art. It also suffers from some of the same problems that haunt middle books of literary trilogies. Namely, a lack of plot momentum and a general sense of stagnation. These elements combine to form an outing that is, on balance, less enjoyable than the first. But for the vast majority of the target audience: hard-core Brandon Sanderson fans, these flaws won’t be enough to dissuade a purchase.
Plotted by Brandon Sanderson
Scripted by Rik Hoskin
Illustrated by Julius Gopez and Julius Otha
Colored by Morgan Hickman and Salvatore Aiala Studios
Lettered by DC Hopkins
Following the loss of most of his colleagues in a violent ambush, Kenton has become Lord Mastrell of the few remaining Sand Masters, magicians who can manipulate sand to do their bidding. With the ruling council poised against him, the hot-headed Kenton must become a diplomat to have any hope of preventing the eradication of his people forever. However, there’s another complication: assassins are coming for him from all directions, and Kenton’s only true ally is Khriss, a visitor from the other side of the planet who has an agenda of her own to pursue.
Before we go any farther, it is probably worth talking about a few things. First, if you’re not familiar with Brandon Sanderson, he is one of the true masters of the modern fantasy genre. His canon is expansive, and largely takes place in a larger shared universe that “White Sand” is a part of. Second, Dynamite delayed the publication of “White Sand” Volume Two several times. The original street date was supposed to be back in October, 2017. That was bumped to December, and then to January, and finally to the actual date last week. While I wasn’t able to find anything confirming this, I think there was a major hang up in the art production process, which might go a long way to explain the overall drop in art quality.
In my previous review, I talked about the impressive level of detail Julius Gopez’s work brought to the book. From the fashion to the architecture, Gopez’s fine lines brought a level of realism to the book that worked very well with Sanderson’s rich prose. In Volume Two, the styles is mostly the same, but a lot of the detail work feels messier. There are places where the quality snaps back to the levels found in the first book, but the vast majority of panels are a downgrade.
The exact nature of the drop in art quality is somewhat hard to parse, but there are at least three things at play. First, the new colorists, Morgan Hickman and the Salvatore Aiala Studios, aren’t as good at shadows as Ross A. Campbell was. For a comic set in a world with a tidally locked sun, and therefore perpetual daylight, shadows and lighting are incredibly important. Campbell’s work takes advantage of the constant top-down lighting to underline more of the character’s facial architecture. Cheekbones, eye sockets and skin creases feel much weightier in his style, and the smooth shadow lines help to distinguish between structural elements of faces and the pseudo dirt wash of Gopez’s sketchy style. n contrast, both of the new colorists use much simpler shadowing techniques, flattening faces and obliterating some of the detail.
Second, a decision seems to have been made to enhance the look of the signature sand magic of the series. In Volume One, Campbell kept the glow associated with Sand Mastery tight to the bodies of its users and the materials they were controlling. Volume Two sees every frame of magic suffused with thick, orange-yellow auras. So much so that many of the action frames have their basic colors changed. Some of this thick glow is cut back on in the later chapters of book two, where the Salvatore Aiala Studios have taken over, but both styles add a lot of visual clutter to the already busy action scenes. The clutter is magnified even more by the decision to add tiny sand particles to these scenes, floating the glowing air. The concentrated busyness of these overlapping elements makes many of the fights impossible to follow.Continued below
The third nail in the coffin is just a simple drop in the quality of Gopez’s lines. The protagonist, Kenton, wears an ornate outfit throughout the books, and features an impressively detailed belt. Throughout the first book, the design on the belt is clear in nearly every single panel. The elements of its design never vary and even those few frames where it’s hard to make out the embroidery make it clear that the architecture of the symbols are the same. This is almost never true in Volume Two.
Then, to cap it all off, the last chapter of book two is done by a completely different artist in a totally different style. The shift is so jarring, it actually creates continuity errors and inconsistencies in the text. Julius Otha’s art is much more cartoony, and would feel more at home in an “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comic. But in a surprising twist, the new style actually works better than Gopez’s. The text boxes and speech bubbles have a little more room to breathe, and the lettering is competing with the filigree for your attention.
One of the core issues with Volume One was that the density of the text and images were both high, leading to some reading clarity problems. Otha’s art largely solves that problem, though admittedly the chapter he drew for was more straightforward that most. Sanderson’s text still feels pretty dense in the comic format, a problem that I noted in the first book. There’s still a lot to read in book two, but there are fewer worldbuilding elements to clutter up the text.
On the other hand, the plot is somewhat plodding. The fast-paced action of the first chapters give way to some plodding, diplomatic intrigue, punctuated by action sequences that pretty much only exist to keep the talking from getting dull. With the exception of a fight against one of the Deep Sand creatures in Chapter 3, these action-breaks also lack the innovation and flair of the combat sequences from the first book; relying more on the aforementioned glow and particle effects to fill panels. A lot of the potential energy of the plot is pushed out to Volume Three. There’s a duel between Sand Masters, the upcoming deadline for Kenton to save his guild from destruction and the resolution to the cliffhanger ending to look forward two, but very little to look back fondly upon.
It is truly unfortunate that the art of “White Sand” Volume Two is in the state that it is. Artist change notwithstanding, a graphic novel of this pedigree deserves a better release than this. But, as I mentioned back at the beginning, the majority of readers for this book aren’t going to care. In retrospect, it might have been better if Dynamite and the production team for this project had sought out a different artist, one without a style as challenging and robust as Gopez’s. But it’s easy to play armchair art director, and Gopez absolutely nailed the atmosphere and feel of the first book. I, at least, am looking forward to the next book (hopefully with fewer delays) and hope that, even if this review comes off as critical, you give “White Sand” and the greater Brandon Sanderson canon a chance.