Writer: Jim Zub
Illustrator: Max Dunbar
WHAT IS IT?
A fast-paced but heartfelt story set on an alien world that balances the fantastic with the brutal.
Imagine Clone Wars meets Gladiator, with a bit of Avatar: The Last Airbender thrown in.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Dail is an orphaned scavenger aboard the Stone Star, a roving entertainment asteroid that's home to the universe's most famous gladiatorial combat.
He loots salvage out from under the ship's guards with his best friend to survive, until a retired gladiator gets him out of a scrape, a princess shows up, and he starts to figure out why he can shoot all that lightning out of his hands.
Dail, Volness and Kikanni find themselves swept up in combat before they know it as Dail battles to save his best friend and Kikanni to save her world. Volness, meanwhile, must decide whether or not he can ever battle again.
The characters. Zub knows that what's going to sell a book like this is a tight cast of memorable people we can attach to as an audience without revealing too much about them from the beginning. Dail, Volness and Kikanni are all recognizable archetypes, but Zub's light touch with detail means a lot comes through in Dunbar's clever art.
The story's paced well, and considering we only have five issues to potentially bring down a corrupt empire both inside and outside of the Stone Star, Zub and Dunbar's economy doesn't sacrifice humor or heart to drive our plot forward.
Dail's sweet and youthful but a survivor, and his ability to go with the flow without questioning every single plot development means there aren't any hitches in the action. When he does experience disbelief or confusion, it's momentary before he acts, and his decisions are usually noble and heart-warming. He's easy to relate to, and his age helps raise the narrative's stakes.
Dunbar populates the world with rich design, from unique sci-fi details to a breathtaking landscape outside of the Stone Star. All of the gladiators are fun to look at and discrete enough to add richness to the combat scenes and depth to the world when we realize later that each is alone in the world.
Grundetjern is adept at adding texture and depth to Dunbar's art with a broad color palette. The two work well together to bring warmth and excitement to the page without sacrificing tension as Dail, Volness and Kikanni face real danger. Browns and earth tones feature heavily, but the big creature reveal in the arena is a total riot of rainbow hues, and each works without fighting the other extreme.
Dillon chooses a font that's easy to read, and between narration and a lot of dialogue, especially in the arena scenes, we never lose the thread or wonder who's talking.
It's fun! Comics don't always have to be deadly serious or grimly spare to be successful, entertaining or emotionally compelling, and this book strikes a keen balance between sheer entertainment value and epic storytelling. Plus, there's more to come next year, which means the end of this arc sits better knowing we haven't seen the last of our new friends.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Despite Dail's youth and charm, there is some violence in the book that might not be suitable for very young readers. No blood, though - Zub, Dunbar and the team know what they're doing, and this book will please a wide audience.
Though the pacing works, there's still an awful lot going on for five issues, and with one left to go and Volness's story not entirely clear, there are higher stakes for an emotionally satisfying finish.
Dillon's font is one I've seen a lot recently, so that immediate recognition is slightly disappointing. It also doesn't quite nail the desperate vibe in the book at times, and the upper-case lettering does take up some space that could be played with.
There are a few moments, particularly in a scene that's meant to play heavily on its visual symbolism, that don't always work because the anatomy feels off. Some of the backgrounds often incorporate too much fine detail as well, which can make for an occasional overwhelming page.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Sit down, put your space adventurer cap on and have some fun. If you're a fan of books that blend fantasy and sci-fi tropes with an engaging cast of characters, fun creature design and a lot of imagination, then this book is definitely for you.
It's also fun for kids and parents to read together, so if you're looking for something to share with your kiddos, this story's it.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Wayward by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings
Cemetery Beach by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard
Ronin Island by Greg Pak & Giannis Milonogiannis
If you like the art:
Judge Dredd: Under Siege by Mark Russell & Max Dunbar
Wolverine, Vol. 1 by Tom Taylor & David Lopez
Rat Queens, Vol. 3 by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Tess Fowler
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Jim Zub – Writer
Runs an amazing blog chock full of detailed advice for creators, would-be creators and anyone interested in an inside look at the comic book industry.
Multitalented: He's written for comics, tv, video games and is a faculty member at Seneca College, where he co-coordinates their Animation program.
Max Dunbar – Artist
Dream Team: He's worked with Jim Zub multiple times, including on Champions over at Marvel and on multiple Dungeons & Dragons books at IDW Publishing.
Espen Grundetjern – Colorist
Dream Team, part 2: He worked with Jim Zub on the 2010 series Skullkickers.
Multitalented: He's a line artist as well as a colorist.
Marshall Dillon – Letterer
Dream Team, part 3: Unsurprisingly, he's also worked with Jim Zub on Skullkickers.
He's contributed to comics that've been produced for a broad array of publishers, including the U.S. Army and the U.S. Department of Health.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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