J.G. Keely's Reviews > Wasteland Book 3: Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos

Wasteland Book 3 by Antony Johnston
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Oct 24, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: comics, post-apocalyptic, reviewed
Read in October, 2011

This story is promising, but the execution continues to disappoint, and it's becoming clearer why. A few issues into this run, the author decided to write something from the point-of-view of the monstrous zombie/ghoul creatures of his post-apocalyptic world, in an attempt to paint them as more than simple villains.

He chooses to depict their speech as a near-human vernacular, which was received variously by readers. Some found it to be interesting and unusual, others found it completely unreadable. I didn't find it to be either. I just found it to be awkward and stilted. It was not clear, easy to read, or evocative.

Johnston is hardly the first author to try to write 'in dialect', but it's an experiment that rarely turns out well. To write a vernacular is a careful balancing act between readability and unique feel. Good vernacular can be a great way to make a character or world feel unique. Bad vernacular is like watching a Hollywood starlet chew their way through Shakespeare: both painful and nonsensical.

But, on the list of literary crimes, replacing 's' with 'z', 'i' with 'eeee', and deleting all the spaces between words, while certainly annoying, is hardly worthy of condemnation, especially since he only toys with it briefly. But then, in the letters section of the next issue, as he replies to some complaints about this failed experiment, we get this gem:

"[people were] saying they shoudn't have to work to understand a comic (Mother Sun knows what they'd do with an Eco novel)"

Let's clarify something: despite what many people seem to think, just because something is difficult to read does not mean it is any good. A dyslexic ESL student's paper is not a work of brilliance because it takes two hours to decipher it. Replacing letters and deleting punctuation does not make you into Umberto Eco (despite what Cormac McCarthy might think).

Johnston's little spelling experiment does not make his work deep or interesting, because it adds nothing to the work. It doesn't produce any extra meaning, there's nothing subtle about it, and it reveals no further insight. It does create some character for the zombie/ghouls, but it's so unwieldy and poorly-executed that it's hardly worth the trouble.

Remember authors: the payoff has to be bigger than the work that goes into it. No one wants to read 300 pages of building mystery only to find out that the murder was committed by someone who wasn't introduced until the last chapter. That's the problem with shows like LOST, which keep building and building, but in the end, don't deliver the conclusion they promised.

And that's the feeling I'm starting to get about Wasteland in general: a lot of ideas flying around, a lot of backstory, but it isn't coalescing into anything, it's just a lot of discrete thoughts tied together through a story that, while nominally an adventure, spends a lot of time in exposition dialogue between a wide range of disappearing/reappearing characters.

The art has improved, and has more depth and shading, but can still get a bit muddy. The characters, while recognizably different, are mostly differentiated by hairdos, beards, and clothing. The art does not lend distinct looks and personalities to the characters, so even though they are different in appearance, they do not feel particularly distinct. It just goes to show that drawing elegantly and distinctly can be as challenging as a more complex, ambitious style.

It is both troubling and telling that the author seems to equate simple convolution with depth, and if that's his philosophy in general, don't be surprised if the Wasteland plot keeps meandering towards an inevitable, predictable conclusion.
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