Echolands is, out the gate, a book all but screaming its ambitions. It’s in the formatting of the book, sure — the landscape widescreen spread of two standard pages laid side by side announces a breathtaking potential scope — but it’s also in the fine details, the narrator’s tale, the wide sweep of action.
Its instantly obvious, at any rate, by the simple fact of JH Williams III’s artwork, which is even at its most restrained some of the most breathtakingly original, powerful styles in comic books today. His presence on a book implies a sort of cultural prestige in much the way that Alex Ross interiors might: that sort of deeply considered craftsmanship takes time, and you don’t throw that type of time and talent at just anything.
That this is a creator-owned book — that Williams III and co-creator and writer Haden Blackman are investing these formidable powers and ambitions into something over which they have complete control — only furthers the boundless potential for the book. It can get as big and weird as they want it to.
This first issue of the book, despite the epic spectacle of its presentation, doesn’t jet us off into those great unknowns by introductory necessity. The issue, instead, feels like the comic book equivalent of the low, wide establishing shots of a particularly concept-heavy film. It feels equal parts Blade Runner, Mos Eisley Cantina, and Sandman.
We’re introduced not only to our fairy tale-esque protagonist, Hope, but also to the impossibly populated world of the book, jam-packed with diverse critters and peoples rendered in varied, conflicting art styles. With this lone spread, we come to understand the nature of our setting: some sort of multiple world and/or reality melting pot city wherein everyone seems driven to their own unique ends.
In a world like this, it isn’t surprising that there are strange, militaristic forces on Hope’s tail, nor that things descend into extreme, horrifying violence.
Our antagonist seems to be a ruthless and gruesome hunter, born of a rarified magic, and she’s creepy as hell; that she reports to a higher power — an imposing Wizard in control of things, profiled in a newspaper article at the back of the issue — only further highlights how far the book can go, what sort of villain ladder is in place.
The issue provides an incredible amount of action alongside the simple expositive task of introductions, and a portion of that action is aided by the unique flow of the book — those two pages, the bold use of that landscape in unique, visually striking but deeply functional paneling. A lot of information can be laid down on the page without anything feeling too cluttered or too overwhelming (or, rather, overwhelming in a negative way).
Echolands has the makings of one of the great epics of modern comic books in the tradition of Sandman or Fables. Compelling, mysterious, and packed with a cast I cannot wait to get to know, this first issue does nothing to sate my curiosity over what comes next, and I cannot begin to anticipate the heights the book might reach.
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