REVIEW: Flee

Regular readers of my reviews may recall Dream Reavers, the high-concept comic from Ape Entertainment whose intriguing first issue I gave a positive review for around a year ago.  Well, the creative team of that title has mostly reunited, with writer Raphael Moran once again pairing up with the art team of Marc Borstel and Atul Bakshi (with the further addition of Ed Watson) and letterer E.T. Dollman for Flee, a new 4-part series for Arcana.  The first issue is currently available from Comixology, and is set for a print release in January of the new year, but I was granted access to an advance collection of the whole series, and so I can positively report that the Dream Reavers team have returned with a comic that is considerably superior to their admirable previous effort.

The first chapter of Flee opens up with what appears to be a comedic slice-of-life story, chronicling the sad misadventures of Rigby Pinkerton: middle-aged, schlubby divorcee and all-around loser.  We linger on him for a few pages before being catapulted into a seemingly non-sequitor shift to a totally different story set firmly within the sci-fi genre, immersing us in a war between two alien races out in the far reaches of space.  It’s a bit of a “Huh?” shift, and Moran does a commendable job of sticking exclusively with the space opera epic story strand just long enough to make your average reader forget about the Earth-bound opening sequence, so that it makes for a good shock cliffhanger seeing how the two narrative threads entwine.  I’ll admit that I saw the twist coming quite early on, and to be honest I’m not entirely sure if it’s even intended as a twist, but I won’t give it away just in case, as it was quite cleverly done.

Moran shows considerable skill as a writer in his ability to traverse these two quite distinct plot threads, and helps make the distinction less jarring by injecting notes of pathos into the comedy thread and unexpected comedic elements into the sci-fi arc.  The humour is typically played pretty broad, but hey, I l found it funny.  The whole thing is very economically paced and packed with incident, and so I found the four issues to be a brisk, easy read.

Marc Borstel and Ed Watson handle the bulk of the art, though Atul Bakshi handles the prologue sequence well.  Ed Watson’s contribution seems to have been to give the art more of a cartoony feel than the more detailed and life-like aesthetic of Dream Reavers, which is appropriate given the more lighthearted nature of this story.  In particular, the art team thrives with the design of the aliens, their armor and technology, and their spaceships, throwing in plenty of fun detail and texture.  The storytelling and layouts are clearly handled, save for an extended fight sequence in the final chapter where, at points, I struggled to make out what was going on and who was doing what.

Mark Borsel’s coloring is a bit less successful.  At some points, it’s fine: soft, textured, with a nice light pallette to complement the cartoony art.  But at other points it just feels really rough, with heavy, flat layers slapped on the page without any real tone or nuance, and with some objects and even people at times colored in an obviously wrong shade.  I’m usually a bit of a dunce when it comes to picking out art niggles like this, so if I noticed it, I can think of a few artist friends who’d be tearing chunks of hear out at such slipups.

Overall, though, Flee is an enjoyable comic.  Raphael Moran continues to develop as a writer and grow more assured in his storytelling, backed by a solid creative team.  This definitely seems like a fruitful partnership producing interesting, diverse work.  I’d be open to see them all coming together for a third collaboration down the line.

Flee #1 is available to buy now from Comixology, and will go on sale in select comic stores in January.

REVIEW: Dream Reavers #1

People who know me know that Grant Morrison is my comics hero, and so I don’t make comparisons to his seminal work The Invisibles lightly.  But reading the first issue of Dream Reavers, the 4-issue miniseries from writer Raphael Moran and artist Marc Borstel, I got a definite Invisibles vibe.  Like that series, you have a series of strange, apparently unrelated vignettes with a surreal edge to them, which over the course of the story begin to converge into a grander, more coherent tapestry.

While Morrison is a fan of dream logic, Raphael Moran’s story actually takes place largely within the realm of dreams.  As the plot starts to come together, we see the dreamscapes of our cast of characters – each with unusual powers – start to converge and overlap, and that the Ravenwood Institute for Mental Disorders may have something to do with their connection.  With the presence of a mental hospital, as well as the dream aspect, the story reminds me of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, easily the best of the Freddy sequels (if you don’t include New Nightmare) and a scenario that I’ve long thought could make a compelling original tale if you took Freddy Kreuger out of the occasion.  The pace with which the mysteries are piled upon us, and the ambiguity over the scenes that are dreams and those are supposed to be taking place in the real world, can cause a bit of confusion that might risk alienating readers.  However, if they stick through this, they’ll be rewarded with an intriguing narrative that promises to build into an immersive mythology in future issues.

Moran gives us a narrative brimming with inventiveness and big ideas, and such high concepts need a capable artist to render them.  And for the most part, Marc Borstel – along with an art assist from Atul Bakshi and David Hedmark – rises to the challenge.  Some of the real world scenes feel a bit staid and flat, but Borstel gets to cut loose and have fun once he gets into the world of dreams, shuffling through various genre pastiches with relish, and presenting some creepy creature designs towards the conclusion.  Borstel’s colors work well too, with textured flesh-tones reminiscent of Ulises Arrerola’s recent Justice League Dark work.  And like in that book, the colors give the characters an eerie “uncanny valley” quality that helps to add to the overall strange tone of the comic.

As a debut issue, Dream Reavers #1 isn’t quite perfect.  Readers are assaulted with a whole bunch of ideas that can be a bit overwhelming, and not every one of them hits home.  But having too many ideas is a good problem to have, and this is a comic that shows a lot of promise.  Raphael Moran is crafting an interesting mythology here, and I’m certainly keen to see where the tale goes next.