In writing any kind of review of The Resistance, the first volume in the Archeologists of Shadows series of graphic novels by writer Lara Fuentes and artist Patricio Clarey, the first thing that immediately demands to be commented on is the extraordinary artwork. Blending traditional pencils, painted artwork, 3D modelling, photography and sculpting, the combined result is absolutely breathtaking. In particular, the locations are so lush and nuanced, they feel like they have depth, like you could walk into them. Rich and textured, Clarey’s visuals are unlike anything else you’re likely to see in a comic. The closest comparison that springs to mind is the distinctive work of Samuel E. Kirkman in 8: A Steampunk Anthology, which I reviewed last year. It’s interesting, as Archeologists of Shadows also falls within the steampunk genre. Perhaps there is something about this particular genre that complements a 3D aesthetic?
It’s also worth noting that the distinct visuals extend beyond the images. Look at the page layouts: the traditional panels with white borders have been replaced by images contained within piping, held together by nuts and bolts. In a comic that deals with the idea of mechanization, it’s effective to have that motif carried through into the construction of the comic. Even the medium the story is being told in appears to be getting mechanized.
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of 3D modelling in comics. The problems with unexpressive faces and awkward poses that I’ve had with the technique before do pop up occasionally here, for the most part I’d say that Clarey’s work here represents one of the most successful forays into the technique I’ve seen.
But what about the story contained within those images? Lara Fuentes introduces us to a future world plagued by the aforementioned “mechanizatoin”, with the planet’s organic materials – including human bodies – being mysteriously transformed into machinery. This plays into the hands of an oppressive government who decree this is the will of the gods, and that further mechanization must be violently enforced, and all resistance stamped out. Here, Fuentes evocatively uses this exotic steampunk universe to comment on the very real plights of regimes using religious fundamentalism to oppress their people.
You get a sense that the universe and the mythology is very large, but our perspective of it is kept small. The narrative is largely focused on the journey of Baltimo and Alex, two fugitives running from a fate of further mechanization who leave the path of mindless obedience and begin to learn of the resistance, who – as is often the case in these stories – might just be The Chosen Ones that can win the war. I think making this their story was a smart idea, because with such a heady high concept and lots of very technical ideas floating around, this narrative could have been in danger of coming across as cold and clinical. Instead, it feels like a very human story, and we have an emotional investment in its outcome.
However, this limited focus can also be a drawback. It feels Lara Fuentes is holding a lot of cards close to her chest in terms of the story development, and that’s fair enough, but I think before you can start establishing secrets that need to be discovered later in the narrative, you must first clearly establish what we should know from the get-go. And some of the specifics of this world and its status quo remain elusive. For example, what exactly is involved in the process of mechanization? When did it start? What were things like before? And while I do like the concept of an oppressive government exploiting and possibly shaping this disaster, as antagonists they feel rather indistinct and shapeless, and might have been more potent with a more prominent figurehead for us to focus on as The Enemy.
However, any complaints are minor. This was an absorbing read, that I just breezed through. When I saw that the graphic novel was north of 100 pages, I thought it would take me ages, but it went by quickly. Part of that is certainly down to the immersive nature of the story, and how it draws you in. But another part is that only 50 pages of those are the actual story. The rest is backmatter, which is fascinating in its own right. The creators give us a tantalising glimpse into their creative process. Of particular interest is how the artwork takes shape, with Clarey showing us how he goes from sketches, to pencils, to 3D-rendered images, and how he designs characters by taking photographs, then adding computer-generated elements on top of those pictures. If you’re interested in 3D-rendering, sculpting, art innovation, or just the creative process behind a comic in general, this backmatter is almost worth the price of the book alone.
Overall, I’d say Archeologists of Shadows is off to a promising start with this first volume. By the end of The Resistance, it feels like the plot has just got going, but everyhing is set up for what should be a very compelling Volume 2. And did I mention the art is lovely? I’ve posted links to where you can get the graphic novel below, but something this beautiful really deserves to be a magnificent, hardcover coffee table edition.