Coming of age stories are a staple in pretty much all media. Everyone wants to write about the feeling of growing up, it seems. I mean, I get it. Growing out of youth into adulthood is something that normally only happens once in a lifetime, and it is a massive part of nearly everyone’s adult lives. Relics of Youth leans into some of the tropes of this type of story, but interestingly it avoids just as many — to the point where I’m not sure if it’s trying to tell a trite story of coming of age, or if the creators just wanted to create a even more trite story about an adventure.
The base premise of a group of kids who all have something that sets them apart from “normal” people coming together and going on a journey into the unknown is predictable almost to a fault. Matt Nicholas and Chad Rebmann’s solution to this potential problem is to skip the entire beginning of the story and dive right into the start of the journey after some incredibly rushed exposition. This rushing of exposition is the most consistent thing about Relics of Youth. Any time the story feels like more information is necessary, we get inundated with dozens of captions from Nat, the POV character, explaining whatever needs to be explained. It feels like an attempt to keep the story focused on the plot of this specific volume, but honestly it comes at the expense of what would be a stronger sense of purpose and better character definition. Honestly it feels like this story needed an extra issue or two – four issues was not enough to properly tell the story the creators were going for.
The reduced issue count hurts this book in more ways than one. The other big flaw the book has is that it struggles to decide whether the plot or the characters are more important, and ends up managing to underdevelop both at the same time. This is most notable with the visible conflict between development of the characters’ relationships and their powers. To me, this book is at its strongest when the characters are interacting and bonding over the absurdity of their situation — there’s a fantastic scene where one character talks to a rat, thinking it’s another character with the ability to shapeshift, only to find out that it’s actually just a rat. These little moments make the book far more enjoyable, but are frustratingly uncommon. What’s even worse is that the two “main” characters who receive the most page time are probably the least interesting. Nat and Derek’s relationship just feels like a generic YA romance story we’ve seen countless times before, and every time they’re on the page it feels like the creators are expecting me to care, when I really just want everyone else to come back instead.
While the story is basically just a weird mishmash of The Breakfast Club and The Road to El Dorado, I have legitimately nothing but praise for the artwork from Skylar Partridge and Vladimir Popov. This book looks great; both the linework and colors are consistently stunning. The character designs could easily have blended together and been forgettable, but Partridge does an excellent job making each character stand out visually, something the writers don’t do nearly as well until the characters get powers. The characters are expressive and the world around them is vibrant, even when it’s not filled with color. The art team on this book really did a fantastic job.
I’m frustrated with this book, because not only does it not really do anything very interesting, it doesn’t even seem to want to. It does what it’s aiming to do well enough, but it’s not really good. I really hope that Skylar Partridge and Vladimir Popov put out more work in the future, but I can’t say I’m eagerly anticipating the next installment of Relics of Youth.