KICKSTART COMICS

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Monday
Jun132011

 

Book of Lilah – This could not have hit my nerd buttons better if they planned it.  I mean, a centuries-old order of librarians protects the world’s knowledge and guides human development, cultivating a mystic library that is also connected to every other library in the world.  Oh, and some books unlock the full intellectual potential of anybody who leafs through the pages.  My only regret is that this didn’t come out when I was 12, because it would have blown my mind.

Of course, even at my jaded age, I had a lot of fun with Book of Lilah.  The titular Lilah is a college student who ends up with a very important book after bumping into a shady fellow in the library.  The book basically turns her into the Beautiful Mind guy.  She figures out “Particle Physics.  Entropy.  Electromagnetism.  The Colonel’s Secret Recipe” before declaring she needs “a new math”.  She reads every book on the shelf and discovers that she’s fluent in French.  (So fluent, in fact, she doesn’t even realize that she isn’t speaking English.)  And when she manages to accidentally cross the Atlantic Ocean without ever leaving the library, she comes to the attention of two different organizations. 

It’s not immediately clear which group she can trust.  The monastic Keepers who move between the mystical stacks seem like they know the score, but there’s another group who tells Lilah that the Keepers have held back human development for their own ends.  (Why didn’t Leonardo DaVinci ever build that helicopter he designed?  The Keepers.)  And there’s a rather charming young man who connects with Lilah who seems to be firmly anti-Keeper. 

Lilah breezes along without sacrificing character development.  There are a lot of ideas here,from the secret society to the mystical library, and yet Lilah still seems fully realized.  That’s especially impressive when you consider that we know her for all of five pages before the adventure kicks in.  She’s really a delightful heroine.  And I absolutely love the idea that the Keepers meddled in history to keep humanity from advancing too fast – the fact that this great concept is only the background of a fast-moving adventure story just makes the book seems that much bigger.  If feels like an expansive and developed world, even though we really only see a small part of it.

Best of all, Lilah doesn’t take itself too seriously.  There are some good jokes here – particularly when Lilah is surprised (and sometimes irritated) to discover things that she learned by taking possession of the book.  I particularly like her horror at her pedantic speech on the number of stars in the sky.

Book of Lilah is written by former Pushing Daisies writer Jim Monaco (The second Daisies contributor to write for Kickstart so far), and you can see a little similarity to the show.  Not so much in terms of plot of approach, but just the fact that he creates a likeable character with a gift that they don’t quite understand, and then sets them loose in a world with its own rules.  The art comes from Javi Fernandez (who also drew Kickstart’s Hero Complex), and it’s really lovely.  The characters are appealing and the weird settings are really well-executed.

It’s a fun read, and surprisingly dense – you’re getting a lot of story in here.  It’s an all-around quality book!

Ward 6 – This one had actually been specifically recommended to me back when Kickstart was putting out its first solicitations.  It’s a complex, twisted mindscrew.  The story focuses on five medical ward inmates.  They have no memories of their past, and when they start to achieve awareness, they are “reset” and have to start over as blank slates. 

Here’s the first cool thing about the premise.  The inmates have knowledge, but no personal information.  They can solve complex logic problems, but have no idea who they are.  They are somehow valuable to their keepers, and they have no idea why.  And the complications keep on coming – one of them dies, and then later returns to the group in perfect health and with his memory freshly reset.

This is really fantastic – there’s this great paranoid vibe, and it’s just maddening.  Whenever the inmates make any progress, they end up back at the starting point.  Even if they manage to leave some information behind, it’s incomprehensible to them after their reset.   Their interpersonal relationships, whatever measure of trust they manage to build, that just goes back to zero anytime somebody learns something they shouldn’t. 

I want to be careful of what I say here, because I don’t want to spoil any surprises.  The reveals are surprising and elegant, and it all makes complete sense by the end.  I’m not going to get into further plot specifics here, but it’s really excellent.  The story had me guessing the whole time.  Ward 6 is not a book to be read casually – you’ll want to give it your full attention.  It pays off. 

The writer, Kevin Fox, is best known for The Negotiator, which is a movie I’ve watched more times than I can reasonably hope to justify.  And this is just an excellent script – it’s complicated and engrossing.  He balances a lot of characters and gives us a reason to care about them, even if those characters don’t actually know why that is.  Their relationships are fascinating, as every time somebody is reset, the other characters have to help them rebuild the personality that they remember.  The main characters are collections of their own instincts, held together with the pieces of information that other people can tell them about themselves.  We’ve seen stories of amnesiacs before, but this is five amnesiacs trying to work as a collective and also occasionally losing all of their progress.  That’s a tricky path to take, and Fox handles it beautifully.

Salvador Navarro handles the art, and it really looks great.  Kickstart’s books are printed at smaller dimensions than average comic books, and Navarro packs the pages with small panels and lots of detail.  There’s a lot happening on every page, but it’s clean and crisp and keeps the story moving at just the right pace.

Ward 6 is terrific.  It’s dark, complicated, and deeply satisfying.  I loved it and highly recommend it.

Next time, we’ll take a look at Kickstart’s June release, Witch.  If history has taught us anything, it should be darned good!