Reviewed this week: Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely’s The Spire #1 and Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland’s 8House: Arclight #1. [SPOILER WARNING: Reviews may contain significant spoilers]
The Spire #1 (BOOM! Studios)
Publisher’s description: The Spire is a mountain of metal and stone that rises from the toxic nowherelands; a city of twisting tunnels, grinding elevators, ancient machinery, and over one million human and non-human residents. Shå, the only citizen of her species, is Commander of the Watch: responsible for keeping order despite the racist views of those around her. When a string of grisly murders occurs on the eve of the new Baroness’s coronation, Shå is tasked with bringing the killer to justice… and picking apart the wider mysteries tangled around the crime. But the city’s new ruler seems sets to usher in a more xenophobic age, and Shå swiftly finds she has far more than one enemy at her back… Oversized first issue with 28 pages of story!
A crime thriller is successfully infused with elements of the New Weird in The Spire #1, the latest collaboration from the creative team behind 2013’s excellent Six-Gun Gorilla, writer Simon Spurrier and artist Jeff Stokely.
The Spire’s eponymous setting—a claustrophobic admixture of a medieval European kingdom and a modern Rio favela—calls to mind the Bas-Lag of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station. It’s a grimy, messy world, and Spurrier wastes little time introducing its racial and class conflicts. The Spire is built on fantasy, but its problems are modeled on those of our reality: There’s friction between its normal human residents and the “sculptured” (a migrant laborer underclass of non-humans), and its incoming sovereign is a hardliner who has no compunctions about transferring the responsibility of maintaining civil order from the civilian police force to the military establishment, seemingly in violation of what passes for the Posse Comitatus Act in the Spire.
There’s a lot of world-building exposition as is often the case with these titles that introduce wholly new and original worlds, but Spurrier and Stokely make it as painless as possible. It’s all woven through the character work, the dialogue, the plot advancement, and even the visual design—there’s none of the stop-explain-and-go stuttering one frequently finds with most other #1 issues. Readers will learn through the course of the comic’s events that the economic and racial stratification of the Spire is reflected in its vertically-oriented structure, all without it being explicitly spelled out for them.
There is a murder-mystery at the center of the issue’s proceedings, and The Spire also excels as a light detective thriller, with a depiction of departmental drama and gender politics that had me in mind of Greg Rucka’s work on Whiteout and Gotham Central.
Tying everything together is the comic’s inventive visuals. As he did in Six-Gun Gorilla, artist Stokely takes full advantage of the fantastical premise, blending the familiar with the otherworldly to create an accessible but nonetheless novel aesthetic. This does not come at the cost of clarity, however, and the storytelling is consistently well-executed from cover-to-cover.
A solid debut issue from a creative team that is, by all indications, peaking as far as their art and their craft.
8House: Arclight #1 (Image Comics)
From the publisher: A lady of the blood house has had her mind trapped in a strange alien root-body. She’s hiding on the outskirts of her kingdom until she learns that the alien monster pretending to be her has returned. The first issue of a shared fantasy universe. Sharp genderqueer knights, blood magic, music, dancing, and a goose.
Arclight, by the husband-and-wife duo of Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland, is the first story set in the shared 8House fantasy universe (previously announced 8House projects include 8House: Kiem by Graham and Xurxo G. Penalta, 8House: Yorris by Helen Maier and Fil Barlow, and 8House: Mirror by Emma Rios and Hwei Lim).
As with his previous works King City, Multiple Warheads, and Prophet, there’s an ethereal, dreamlike-quality to Graham’s writing and world design on Arclight. And as with those titles, the Eisner Award-winning cartoonist doesn’t devote a lot of pages explaining the whys and wherefores of the setting, trusting in the reader’s ability to take the new fantastical world at face value and intuit its governing logic. It’s an approach that has its pros and cons, but at the very least, it frees the first issue from the slog of exposition, and it reads at a much more brisk pace as a result.
There’s a lot of texture to Churchland’s line art, but not to the point of excess—there’s just enough to give a sense of volume and lighting. The subdued coloring, also by Churchland, complements the line art well and further reinforces the surreal character of the setting and story. The character designs, which I’m assuming are the work of both Graham and Churchland, are really quite memorable (the Lady’s “root-body” is especially inventive).
At this early juncture, it is perhaps the strong visuals that best serves as Arclight’s key hook, but what’s been revealed of the story thus far holds promise. Keep an eye out for this one.