Writer: Camrus Johnson & Kelsey Barnhart
Publisher: A Wave Blue World
WHAT IS IT?
A sci-fi battle royale story set inside a video game.
Think The Hunger Games meets Tron.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Casandra awakes in an empty, white-tiled room which a raging headache, but before she can get her bearings, she’s informed by a disembodied voice that she has been selected as a challenger in a deadly last-man-standing competition. The voice instructs the competitors to choose a starter weapon to defend themselves, but in her panic, Casandra runs out of time and must forge ahead weaponless. Things quickly get serious when she is struck in the chest by a shuriken.
Fleeing and her health decreasing, she stumbles into another player named Jesse who promises not to hurt her. However, there’s no time for further introductions as they are attacked by another player. Jesse holds off their attacker so Casandra can flee. All seems hopeless until she emerges in the middle of a battle between the brawler Mac and the knife-wielding Kimi. Casandra manages to dispel the tension between them and with Jesse, they form a team to stay alive long enough to figure out why everyone is here and what horror lies in wait.
Johnson and Barnhart's story throws the reader right into the middle of the chaos. The story is intense and action-packed, immediately establishing the dire consequences of failing this game.
ChrisCross’ linework is crisp and clean which is perfect for an artificial-looking video game world. No detail is lost even when depicting lots of movement.
Dalhouse masterfully uses shading through the clean, monochromatic landscape. The focus of each panel is clear and distinct despite being similarly colored.
Bennett continues to demonstrate why he is a master letterer managing to fit multiple balloons of dialogue and lots of sound effects into the art without breaking the flow of the story or distracting from the visuals.
The writers chose excellent personalities for each of the main characters that compete with one another. It lays a solid foundation for character growth.
The coloring is very meticulous, saving the warmer colors for big dramatic moments. The reds and oranges contrast nicely against the blues and greys that permeate most of the story.
The design of HUD and health bars are gorgeous and perfectly fits the established color palettes and video game aesthetics. They also add some subtle worldbuilding like how the characters regain health.
Bennett also provides an incredible variety of sound effect styles that visually reflect the sound they are meant to convey. It makes the soundscape of this world feel hectic and lively.
The issue ends on an excellent cliffhanger that will leave readers hungry for more while also subtly hinting at a clue to the mystery of everything.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Some of the dialogue would have felt more natural if spread over a couple of panels. These dialogue-heavy spots break the flow of the story slightly due to an awkward combination of dialogue and character actions.
There are a few pages that have 10 panels or more and sternly pump the brakes after the story already established a fast pace. These sections do deliver some quality worldbuilding and character interactions but could have been condensed.
Explanations for the mechanics of the game are often told to the reader through dialogue instead of shown. It would have been better to see these aspects and let the reader discover them along with the characters.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Video games are a popular aesthetic and setting for Eastern comics but haven’t made a huge splash in Western books. This is why I’m glad a book like Tower decided to take a crack at a video game-inspired world with a unique twist.
The most compelling part of this story is how the characters, and subsequently the reader, are thrown into the middle of this battle royale game with little explanation, but commendably avoid confusion. The writers accomplish this by crafting a character, Casandra, who is unfamiliar with video game trends and rules, so the reader can learn with them. Readers will feel every bit of anxiety and frustration she does bouncing from one disaster to the next. It's truly a relentless, action-packed ride.
Highest kudos to the art team for exemplifying what comics do best: providing story without words. The minimalist backgrounds excellently convey the feeling of these characters being rats trapped in a maze and allow the focus to be on their facial expressions and fights. The colors also get a huge opportunity to shine thanks to the sparse canvas and they truly pop. In addition, the lettering gets an opportunity to provide worldbuilding without exposition, explaining things like the recovery of health and the brute force of weapons. It’s something readers don’t get to see often in lettering and it is chef’s kiss.
For anyone seeking a thrilling story in a less-explored setting, Tower is a great choice.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Batman: Urban Legends by Camrus Johnson et al.
Solo Levelling by Chugong & Dubu
The Witch’s Throne by Cedric Caballes
If you like the art:
Bankshot by Alex De Campi & ChrisCross
Archer and Armstrong by Fred Van Lente, Khari Evans & ChrisCross
Judge Dredd: Legends of the Law by John Wagner et al.
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Camrus Johnson (@CamrusJ) – Writer
Johnson is an actor known for playing Luke Fox on CW’s Batwoman who started writing comics in 2021.
In addition to Tower, he has also written Bat-family stories for DC.
Johnson is also a producer and director of multiple award-winning short films including She Dreams at Sunrise and Blue Bison.
Kelsey Barnhart (@KelsBarnhart) – Writer
Tower is Barnhart’s first published written work.
In addition to writing, they are also an actor and a TTRPG designer.
Barnhart also hosts the podcast Cinemanomicon with Kwame Berry and Logan Laveau.
ChrisCross (@ChrisCrosserX) - Artist
An industry veteran, ChrisCross (nee Christopher Williams) has penciled for Marvel, DC, Humanoids, IDW, Valiant, and Dark Horse comics.
In addition to interiors, he is also an accomplished cover artist with works published by Marvel and DC.
ChrisCross got his break in the 1990s when DC launched its Milestone imprint aimed at attracting a more multicultural audience.
Andrew Dalhouse (@ADalhouse) – Colorist
An established colorist, Andrew has done work for every major comic publisher.
Andrew counts Justin Posner, Frank D'Armata, and Steve Firchow among his influences.
Deron Bennett (@DeronBennett) – Letterer
A seasoned veteran, Bennett has done letters for nearly every major publisher including DC (Batman), Marvel (Spider-Man Family, Wolverine: First Class), Image (Excellence) Boom! Studios (Something is Killing the Children) and Vault.
He was nominated for the 2015 Harvey Award for Best Letterer for his work on Boom! Studios’ Hacktivist and the 2021 Eisner for Best Letterer.
Bennett also designs covers and interiors for children’s books through his company Andworld Design.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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