A Shiny Start: Last month, I dove into a series that, at least on paper, proved to be among the most auspicious of the entire year. Nomen Omen promised, among other things, a narrative that would “rewire urban fantasy”; to supplement the story via a real-world Instagram account; portray a progressive cast of young and/or queer characters; and offer up a novel artistic approach (mirroring the hero’s color blindness).
So, was the series off to a rousing start with issue #1? Sure, mostly — there was clearly potential, even if the world seemed shaky from the very start. But that’s why stories have multiple chapters, and issue #2 promised to give us sturdy ground in weird and wonderful happenings surrounding uber geek Becky.
What’s What Now?: … and somehow things are more tenuous than ever. Issue #2 reveals what’s likely to be a major theme for the series: making readers question reality itself. Did Becky die at the end of #1, or is that some sort of trick? Are the magical children tracking her down actually there? Is that beefy Central Park Guardian — like an anime version of Logan — another trick of some old, unknowable magic? No matter the question, writer Marco B. Bucci doesn’t want the reader to ever feel safe with any assumption. Is that deeply annoying to someone who wants a more streamlined and concrete narrative? You bet your magical talisman. But at the same time, there’s something appealing to this jarring approach to storytelling. If the book wants us to believe that magic is real, the best thing it can do is make us question our very assumptions, and to dart wildly between conclusions. In that sense, issue #2 is even more effective, because it engages the reader in a deeply cerebral manner.
As an extension of that, Jacopo Camagni’s art is the clear MVP for messing with readers’ brain pans. The way he uses and then quickly pulls out colors; how he portrays Becky’s thoughts and emotions with panels and bubbles; and even other panels/segments dedicated to extra telling moments and gestures from other characters. It’s Camagni’s art that’s most effective in messing with reader’s sensibilities while still maintaining some cohesiveness.
Blurred Edges: At the same time, the narrative feels a little too wonky. There’s lots of moments here — Becky and the dirt bike (part of her accident, which is mentioned often), or this mutant bird-baby transformation sequence that still haunts my very dreams — that go beyond the scope of proper obfuscation. It’s those instances where we lose our final grasp of reality and are left floating in the unknown. Without some kind of tether, it’s easy to feel lost in the grand narrative to the point that you stop following along entirely. Even as the visuals remain ever gorgeous, and you can practically sense the creators’ passion in subverting reality, it takes effort to stay in the groove.
It’s quite likely you’ll walk away from issue #2 feeling that just a tad more cohesion and narrative heft might have fostered a truly whimsical experience and not something confusing to the point of annoyance or anger. As if they were close, and that lil’ gap is just large enough for the story to slip into. There’s great stuff here, like the sub-plot with Becky’s friends and their concern for her wellbeing, or Becky’s own emotional duress, that are actually essential and appealing bits of the story. But they are often left to float in the magical and metaphysical ocean that this book uses to drown readers. You may reach out for some semblance of land, but all you find is the naked butt of a baby-bird mutant.
Get A Move On: I get that perhaps I’m a little slow, or that this book requires more non-linear thinking for maximum enjoyment. At the same time, it can’t all be guess work. Any good story makes its readers exert themselves, and issue #2 is clearly a great example of that. It wants readers to try and connect the emotional dots between Becky and her friends, or do the leg work in empathizing with our young heroine’s racing emotions. But then the book also demands we sort out whether or not, say, a giant magical brawl between previously unseen characters actually happened or not. And even if said characters explain how their magic blinds and confuses mortal men, we’re still left with the bigger question of why do we care? Blurring the lines of reality and perception also means you mess with the lines of reader’s commitment to the story and its larger value. When you question what is real or not, that sort of act may be too much for people who want a story to reach out to them and not the other way around. People can be lazy, and even someone committed (perhaps maybe a critic?) can feel like this is less a touching story and rather an exercise in creation and pushing artistic boundaries.
Shimmery Hero Types: If there’s a solid future for the series, it’s going to be in better emphasizing the universe of the aforementioned magical folks. Especially CPG (the Anime Logan I’d mentioned earlier), who clearly acts as both guardian to Becky and an introduction to this universe’s larger mythos. If these characters, plus the magic kid monsters that battle CPG, are brought more to the center, it’s going to help a lot in grounding the surrealness and absurdity and help drive the story along more effectively. The creators already have the “humans” down pat, and Becky and her cohorts are a great emotional core among the magical onslaught. But the more we understand about these beings, the more some of the magical bits will start to make sense and be more worthy of our attention. The story actually begins to click in issue #2 once those magical folk align with our world, and that’s essential in telling a story with real value while connecting with readers in a meaningful way.
Final Thought: After issue #1’s slow unfurl, issue #2 picks up the pace. Is that a pace worth keeping up with, or is it better to let this book run its course?
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