A site I have really enjoyed visiting is http://www.naveenmalli.com. I don’t visit as regularly as I’d like to, but every so often I’ll remember it, and go back to catch up on what I’ve missed. It’s a production blog, covering the long, often difficult process writer Naveen Malli has gone through to get his comic, Zi, created and published. Malli’s passion for the project is quite infectious, and so I found myself rooting for him and for Zi, to the point where I was really excited to read this, the at-long-last completed first issue of the series. In my mind, its reputation has preceded it. Thankfully, the comic itself manages to live up to its reputation, and proves to be an enjoyable read.
One recurring trend found in the commentaries on Naveen Malli’s blog is an outspoken hatred of superheroes. So I was quite surprised, upon reading this first issue of Zi, to discover what is in a lot of ways a classic superhero story. The familiar iconography of capes and tights are absent, but this is a story that taps into one of the core appeals of the superhero genre: what if you discovered that your life wasn’t what you thought it was, that you had incredible powers, that you were able to change the world? These are relevations that our protagonist, prodigal monk Michael, faces over the course of this issue, in a relentlessly paced debut chapter that finds Michael and mentor Christopher going on the run, chased by shady government types. It’s a very quick read, as the brisk, exciting pace of the narrative carries you through the comic in a flash.
But there’s some substance underneath all the style. Michael himself is struggling with his faith and his place in the world, and as his status quo radically alters over the course of the issue, these problems become compounded, with the answers he’s been seeking possibly not the ones he’s been wanting to hear. Less effective are the ominous opening and closing scenes that bookend the issue. In each case they are a bit brief and jarring, leaving you feeling disconnected from the main story rather than having your experience of it enrichened. But the backmatter – a fake newspaper article about the mystery surrounding the supposed first city of Eridu – is arguably the most intriguing element of the whole comic, and I imagine these scenes, seemingly holding only a tenuous link to what is going on elsewhere, will make greater sense in the context of the larger story.
I had mixed feelings about the artwork of Antonio Brandao. At times, the facial expressions and body language of the characters are a little awkward, but Brandao excels in the action scenes, crafting a sense of chaos and frantic movement with his panel layouts. His location work is also impressive, particularly his rendition of Las Vegas. His inks are a little heavy, which blots out some of the details of the linework, but the rough edges are smoothed down by some rich, textured colors by Edgar Arce.
So, there are a couple of minor flaws here and there, but much of these are little niggles I think can be ironed out as the story progresses and we are further immersed in the mythology of Eridu. The main thing is that we’re introduced to some interesting concepts and likeable characters, so there is enough of a hook to make us want to keep reading until the larger story takes shape. I’m glad that Naveen Malli has finally got Zi out there for the world to read, and I’m even more glad that it’s shaping up to be a quality comic.