Ugh, Whatever: It’d be easy (and mostly clichéd) to think of aging as some poison for youthful exuberance and curiosity. Instead, It’s a slow-moving gondola lift: I’m not in the midst of that hormone-addled brain but I can certainly still see everything, and that proximity helps me better understand all that value and meaning. Which is one of the reasons I happily tackled the latest series from Vault Comics, Relics of Youth.
Welcome To Adolescence Park: Co-written by screenwriter Matt Nicholas and Judo Girl‘s Chad Rebmann, and with art by Skylar Patridge (Volume), Relics is said to be in “the spirit of Runaways or Morning Glories.” Here, six teenagers experience vivid dreams and hallucinations of a mysterious island. After they’re marked by magical tattoos of said rock, one member, the precocious, punk-ish programmer Nat, assembles the remaining members: former child star Mia, uber-dweeb Tristan, honor-bound everyman Blake, trust fund douche Garrett, and Derek, who is, um, dying of cancer (sorry, not a personality type).
Using Garrett’s (parents’) ample resources, they set sail for the Bermuda Triangle, wherein they discover the island of Oshita, which promises loads of supernatural mystery. And cue the baddies to complicate matters…
Something Like Heart: It’s not that Relics is clearly a Y.A. comic; though, it certainly feels appropriate for that unique format and audience. Rather, it’s just a deeply youth-oriented book, one where that confusion and intensity exist in equal parts. If you were young enough, this might be the kind of quaint adventure story that resonates very deeply.
Even if you are as ancient as myself, there’s still an appreciation for these kids, a desire to watch them figure it all out and find their way in the world. Rebmann and Nicholas have crafted a story tailor-made for cheer-leading, with a sort of aw-shucks quality that makes it easy to remember when the world pulsed with so much shimmery uncertainty. The pair’s nailed what it feels like to want to find a place in the world, even if it means sailing headlong into the Bermuda Triangle. That doesn’t always make for the most compelling or insightful narratives, but it’s a series committed to this specific aim above all else.
Messing with the Bull: The story itself is solid, and there’s great emotional building blocks laid out in this first issue. If there’s a downside to such a “young” cast, though, it’s that they’re sometimes annoying. To some extent, the characters feel like half-formed stereotypes — less actual people and more plot devices to facilitate a mood and drive the story. That could just be the first issue jitters, but it’s a possibility that as everything gets hairier and we need more 3D, organic characters to relate to, the teens can’t move beyond weak tropes.
Similarly, this book feels like The Breakfast Club, which could be a good thing, but only if the creators find a way to build unique dynamics and foster endearing or exciting interactions. There’s some promise with Nat and Derek, who are this shared meditation on death and our accompanying obsession. But then the other characters feel like they’re just going through someone else’s motions. Here’s hoping each character bucks their stereotypical DNA and finds a way to relate to one another in this truly unique setting.
This Sucks?: I’m not one to crap on Y.A. properties; if something like Divergent or Vampire Academy gets people to care earnestly about fiction, then that’s totes awesome. At the same time, a lot of Y.A., experiences what I call the “Twilight Concern,” which is to say a lot of these books/series are solely about teenagers finding ways to feel unique or special. In the case of Relics, the 6 teens are likely set to inherit unique powers and magical relics to defend the island and ward off evil. I get that teens/young people want to be special; when I was 16, I dyed my hair black and ditched school to stand out (spoilers: it didn’t work).
But there has to be something more to Relics than “we’re not like everyone else.” What do these new “abilities” mean for the team, and how does that align with or question their respective personalities? Do they want to be special, or are they really in search of meaning or happiness or an escape from how they feel? I worry that this is just an excuse to give them sweet superpowers, and without something more, the series won’t stand out like some of its aforementioned spiritual predecessors.
Mr. Clean: I mostly like Patridge’s art; it feels like the best kind of Saturday morning cartoons. But the problem I have with his pencils in Relics is that it feels a little safe, a little to sterile and saccharine in its commitment to fostering that boundless vigor of youth. (The extra lush colors of Vladimir Popov may also contribute substantially.)
This is a messy story; Derek has cancer, Nat may have a death wish, and they’ve all basically become orphans. As such, the art should reflect that intensity and grit a little more, but even something like the villains murdering crew members on Garrett’s yacht lacks some of that raw, visceral impact. Maybe that’s the bloodlust of an old man talking, but there’s this unshakable sense that any depth or anger (in a story potentially swimming with it) has been muted for portraying its teen heroes in a very specific, highly romanticized manner.
Also, totally unrelated to the art is the book’s overall pacing. I generally like efficiency in books, but everyone meets, travels to the island, and gets into trouble in just 28 pages. Drawing out the world-building would’ve allowed for more emotional exploration, but then that’s a sin mostly worth excusing.
Get Out, Dad!: Relics has earned my attention as much as my caution. There’s a lot to hope for this book to eventually display or achieve, but that could just as easily not be the case as we’re left with more mid-tier Y.A. I’ll keep reading regardless, but like dealing with actual teenagers, I only have so much time and patience.