Keely's Reviews > Wasteland, Book 1: Cities in Dust

Wasteland, Book 1 by Antony Johnston
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Sep 30, 11

bookshelves: comics, post-apocalyptic, reviewed
Read from September 29 to 30, 2011

Yeah, another post-apocalyptic comic, but I'm still looking for one that satisfies what I really want to see. And sometimes, I start feeling like the only way that will happen is if make it myself.

It's not that I have anything against a nice, straightforward black-and-white ink comic. When I popped this one open, I was pleasantly reminded of the old 2000AD anthologies and their great spare feel as well as the vibrant, precise action of manga. But the art in this book is a bit too spare.

Thin, even lines delineate a mostly-white background, but lacking the stylized contouring and detailing which tend to define the Franco-Belgians. Likewise, we do not get the vast pools of black which helped to provide depth and focus in 2000AD, nor the madcap hatching which lends manga its vitality.

The somewhat flat, even style tends to hurt dynamic action scenes, since the eye must always tease the figures out of the background, being denied delineation. There are some attempts to use photoshop effects to blur foregrounds or backgrounds, but it’s jarring compared to the otherwise clean, precise lines. Other uses of photoshop techniques here and there stand out just as much, lending an unpolished look. As George Lucas has demonstrated: adding a veneer of computer effects over a simple structure doe not make for a very appealing look.

For some reason the art is especially blank and undelineated in wide, establishing shots. The purpose of these shots is to quickly communicate a sense of the world to the reader, which is why they tend to be detailed and dynamic. Leaving them as flat expanses negates much of their impact.

We start to get more depth and use of dynamic value range as the series goes on, and there are some panels here and there which depict the comic I wish I were looking at, but these high points are inconsistent at first, though the do improve. I find it to be a bad sign that the creative talent didn’t try to find an inker or values painter to help them work out the first issue, since leading issues are so important in building a fanbase, but this book is covered with effusive recommendations from various magazines and industry people, most which I find rather overstated, so it must not have turned people off too much.

The dialogue can be stilted and the exposition leaden. An unfortunate lack of subtext predominates. Characters tend to say just what they mean. Their intentions are clear and their dialogue communicates those intentions with little guile or subterfuge. This can leave the characters feeling flat, since much of the way an author portrays personality is by carefully choosing how a character expresses themselves--or what they hide.

Most people tend to communicate on more than one level, especially in situations with conflict and shifting social dynamics. That doesn’t mean the character must be subtle or clever, just that their fears and desires tend to color their everyday, apparently straightforward communications. Without that, they all begin to sound the same and the story loses both tension and interpersonal development.

But it’s always a bad sign in both dialogue and characterization when you have one character constantly saying ‘so you are actually funny’ to another character who, while having an irreverent tone, has not said or done anything which is humorous. This is especially true if that irreverent tone seems to have more to do with detached cynicism than humor. Never have one character attribute personality to another character, especially when that personality is not demonstrated.

The take on the post-apocalyptic has some odd little tweaks, mostly of a fantastical or sci fi nature. Between the mysterious, robed, psychic hero and the attacks of Sand People, it can start to feel like a post apocalypse playing out on Luke Skywalker’s homeworld of Tatooine. Yet we don’t really get into any of the meat of the story in this opening arc, just a lot of mysteries. I would have enjoyed something more conclusive in the last chapter, otherwise it seems somewhat pointless to break the comic into arcs, if it just ends in an ongoing cliffhanger. I’m not saying everything should have been wrapped up, but it’s always nice to get some smaller arcs to lead up to the bigger set pieces.

The worldbuilding is evident from the beginning, with lots of terms and phrases which, while unusual, are hardly confusing or difficult to parse. Indeed, if I had any complaint it was that the language and cultural differences were really not extreme enough. I would have appreciated some larger hints, surprises, and conflicts to show how much this world has truly changed.

So far it’s nothing that a post-ap enthusiast hasn’t seen before: wandering mystery dude, little towns, sheriffs, religious tyrants, super evil slavers, mutated ghoul/zombies. When I first heard the title, I immediately recalled the cult classic game of the same name, which was the precursor to the Fallout series, one of the most original and well-written explorations of a post-apocalyptic world (at least, the first two games). But so far, this Wasteland has failed to live up to its namesake. It’s trying, and there are a lot of ideas floating around, but the delivery is lacking. The world, characters, and plot are all present, but they aren’t doing anything to set this book apart.

My Suggested Readings in Comics
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