Dropping the Veil: There’s a lot of fantasy that exists in our pop culture world, and good, bad, or otherwise, it’s all important. (Even bad GoT rip-offs? Even bad GoT rip-offs.) At its core, this genre is a form of super-escape in comparison, a distillation of fiction’s key elements (earnestness, willful ignorance, boundless optimism, etc.) necessary for leaving our world behind for something more appealing and endearing.
It’s as if fantasy is this large, sugar-addled monster (a la Godzilla), smashing out the walls of reality with more gusto than precision. And if great fantasy is about creating a very specific, very streamlined world, than Nomen Omen is already a huge success.
The World Coalesces: A brand-new translation from the Italian original, Nomen Omen is written by Marco B. Bucci (Memento Mori) and with art from Jacopo Camagni (Deadpool The Duck, X-Men Blue). Our hero is Becky, a “geeky 21-year-old from New York City who is about to cross the veil between our reality and a realm of otherworldly truth.” So far so fitting with the very ideals of fantasy — dropkicking our hero into a strange new reality — and from that some great things take shape within issue #1. Not all of it is clear now, but the building blocks of this debut issue are a promising enough to highlight some truly lofty goals.
A Huge Start: In press for the series, Image promises a book that “rewires the rules of urban fantasy.” Whether that’s hyperbole, there are a few key elements in which the book exemplifies a slightly groundbreaking approach.
Perhaps the most obvious of that is the structure of the book in general. On the one hand, Bucci’s narrative is disjointed a la a Quentin Tarantino film, layering the events of this world in a way to emphasize and de-emphasize certain elements and thus maximize efforts. And while that’s a common enough approach implemented effectively to keep readers active, Bucci’s greatest accomplishment is his scope. In issue one, he outlines Becky’s origins, and in turn the structure of the larger world, doing so without complicating the story and maintaining a rather steady pace. We see the dynamic between her parents and the circumstances of Becky’s “birth” leading into her life and the subsequent story surrounding her “immersion.” It’s a lot for a single issue, but Bucci does so with nuance and care that makes it easy to feel you’re seeing a really grand story unfold.
An Art Explosion: You can’t talk about this book breaking new ground without discussing Camagni’s art. As great as the story itself is for setting the mood and overall dynamic, it’s the pages that drive home that sense of pure fantasy and magic. Camagni’s style is both slightly cartoonish, which is endearing as one might expect. But then when he provides these crazy flourishes, like the pages of Becky’s “conception,” things jump a few gears. It’s work that really aligns with the idea of Becky transitioning, with these huge, vivid scenes exploding off the page and into the brain, recreating the same kinds of emotional swells Becky no doubt experienced. As an extension of that, many of the pages in issue #1 are done in black and white as to mirror Becky’s extreme colorblindness. Sure, it’s a cool touch, but it also does a ton of work in making the fantasy elements and tropes look and feel all that more impactful. Such a simple device is a great way to not only tell a story, but do so in a way that plays with a reader’s senses and sensibilities, making them feel a part of the story and ensuring everything cuts as deep as possible.
The Light Touch: More than those tools, the creative duo of Bucci and Camagni have other, more subtle tools to rely on in making this book an effective machine for re-configuring fantasy. Becky’s parents, for instance, are lesbians, and I think that’s an important decision if you’re operating in an urban fantasy setting. Little things like that aren’t just about decency and exclusivity, but also creating a reality that rings true for most people. If you want a story to feel real before you burst it wide open, then you need to make people recognize something.
As another extension of that, the book also features a real-world Instagram account, in which “Becky” maintains a visual dream diary. Is it a little hokey? Sure, but then it’s also a great way to further mess with our senses. It’s such a simple but effective device to take the story out of the pages and put it into our life, which is keeping with the whole idea of making magic as real as possible. That level of commitment is rare, and it does wonders to make you care about a thing when it’s doing whatever possible to creep into your brain pan.
Also, as a side note, Becky’s got a cast of friends who help her celebrate her b-day, and they’re all either slightly endearing or bad hipster pastiches. It’s all great and may they remain this steady presence.
I Have Notes!: As much as I loved the book, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a few issues. Perhaps the most major concern (already) is that I don’t quite know where the story’s headed (and that doesn’t have anything to do with the ending’s, um, big death). Instead, the book did such a great job of building the universe that there was little room otherwise to hint at what came next. Now, I could just leave it alone and allow the story to unfold, but without that little shred, it’s harder to maintain peak interest.
Similarly, I have a major concern about subsequent issues and how the world will be further built. Is it always going to require whole issues to add something new, or can they find a balance between the many kinds of world-building needed for an effective story? Without that efficiency, I’m afraid some developments may be stunted, or that they aren’t given the ample spacing required to hit the reader as bluntly as possible. These could be just early jitters, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind for subsequent issues.
Elevator Pitch: Nomen Omen is the best parts of Twilight, Twin Peaks, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch all rolled into one thoughtful, progressive package.
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