What Is What?: I’m writing this review in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. You know, that most nebulous of points where time and reality cease to function, and where nothing seems to stick like that last fleeting snowfall. Sorry; blame bad metaphors on the fact I don’t know what day it is.
It’s really the perfect time to have jumped into issue #4 of Image Comics’ interesting-but-irksome “urban fantasy” series, Nomen Omen. I’ve been super clear regarding my myriad of issues with this title, but issue #3 had me mostly feeling hopeful that everything might actually coalesce. But once more I find myself in an in-between space — between the magic and the mundane, the beguiling and the boring, the good and the outright “meh.”
Conversations Are Dope: A quick note before delving into issue #4’s actual positives. The magical “stuff” here are basically “stories,” which is to say all of these fantastical beings are creations of man that have gained life for as yet undisclosed reasons. At least that’s how I see all of this, and the truth is, this aspect doesn’t matter much (for now). What does matter, though, is that this issue was a chance for Becky to learn some important truths, doing so through conversations with Lady Macbeth (that one) and Miss Lethderg, formerly known as Maeve (of the Ulster Cycle in Irish mythology), now “queen” of New York. Both of these encounters provide some pivotal details, like how young Becky’s a witch (!), all of these folks are fairies, everyone’s ruled by the fiendish King Taranis, and (checks notes) Becky’s totes gonna die because she lost her heart in issue #1.
More than mere plot, it’s about further refining the brightly-colored deluge of magical happenings, giving shape to endless mythos to create a proper story. Said narrative was certainly more clear by the end of #4, even if what it all means and the larger story arc remain as mysterious as ever. As I’ve said in my previous reviews, the more structure created, the better some of these magical elements will resonate, and while we’re not exactly on sturdy earth, Becky now has a proper mission (don’t die!)
Dumb Jokes R Dumb: In past reviews, I also mentioned the importance of the human element. Not just for delightful drama, but giving Becky distinctly human origins is a way to ground the series and prevent it from getting lost in its own wonder and world-building. This time around, though, I’m a little disappointed. Sure, we get some good interactions between Becky’s two moms, even if that’s not enough to generate further stakes for readers. Instead, the bulk of this “human” interaction involves a bad scene with Becky, her friend Patrick, and Fer (the badass magical guardian), ending with a lame joke (?) about a threesome in a Starbucks bathroom. I get the need for inclusion, and the appeal of leaving room for the ephemera of humanity to balance this deeply fantastical storyline.
But to end on such a one-sided note diminishes some of the real tension and drama, leaving the story more unsorted and disconnected than before. If we’re gonna spend issue after issue bombarded by this magic stuff, simple human emotion goes a long way to fostering something generally evocative and not just a way to include a dope Instagram account. If we can’t feel for these people in a real and earnest way, then all of this breaks down and we’re left with a scattered smorgasbord of pop culture references and half-hearted jokes. I want desperately to really like Nomen Omen, but the ending left such a bad taste in my mouth that it feels like the series doesn’t want to settle enough to help readers make a proper decision either way.
What A World?: This is the first time in this series where I feel confident enough about the overall themes and universal specifics to comment at all. All in all, I think there’s something there to this whole “stories come to life” shtick, and it certainly fits with the larger themes of the series (the roles of reality and metaphysics, the importance of emotion and child-like wonder, seeing and awareness, etc.) Not to mention, there’s a lot of great interplay possible between this thematic approach and the visual style mirroring Becky’s color-blindness (which we also learn more about in this issue). At the same time, I question just how much staying power or larger potential some of these story threads will actually have. It’s not exactly a new approach (see Fables), and its execution thus far leaves plenty to be desired.
Now, that could all change in subsequent issues, especially if the creative team continue to lean heavier on the human elements. But as it is now, the gimmicks here are either too uncertain, or too poorly constructed, to make this story matter. Oddly enough, this doesn’t necessarily impact my feelings toward the series (yet), but if this is going to be something truly enjoyable, then this world-building needs to kick it into 5th gear.
All Color, No Snap: Regardless of my feelings on the narrative shortcomings, I’ve almost always loved or appreciated Jacopo Camagni’s dynamic art work. This time around, though, I’m feeling a teensy bit uncertain. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great stuff here — the convo between Becky and Macbeth uses color and shadows perfectly, and Maeve’s depiction is as gorgeous as it is unsettling. But other than that, a lot of the visuals in this issue just sort of fall flat. A huge part of that may have to do with the ending, as there’s not a lot of great artistic potential within such a lame scenario.
Similarly, because so many of the human-magic elements are further bifurcated, Camagni isn’t able to wow us with something truly impactful. This could have been a much more important issue from a visual standpoint, but a lot of its potential is snuffed out as the narrative tries to find its way forward. There clearly needs to be ample space for these two things to work in tandem, or we risk killing the last sparkle of this book’s light and color.
A Closing Resolution: I’ll celebrate like Christmas if this book can sort itself out and generate some real magic.