Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Crater XV review

Part of my appreciation of Far Arden, the comic that precedes this one, had to do with writer/artist Kevin Cannon’s creation of the nearly 400 page comic. He held a series of personal 24 Hour Comic challenges, one per month, which eventually led him to create a much longer work. With its sequel, Crater XV, you can clearly see that Cannon had more time to write, draw and work out the story as whole before putting pen to paper. The art is crisp, but it maintains the same cartoon style and frivolous energy of Far Arden. The story is also different. It’s not one main story chugging along with smaller stories being added to it. It’s not built the same way as the previous comic. Multiple stories are introduced early on and they progress in parallel to one another regularly and eventually they all come together. There’s a sense of momentum that builds and continues to build into a grand conclusion.

Far Arden wrapped up quite nicely. I can’t recall a part of the story that Cannon didn’t wrap up and because of this, I had no clue what Crater XV was going to be about. Where else could the story go? The title and cover art suggesting space exploration. My first reaction was less than enthusiastic. Space exploration? Army Shanks is a hardened sailor, not an astronaut. My second thought was more positive. At least Cannon will avoid rehashing the same old story. The actual story has very little to do with the plot of Far Arden but it retains the storytelling style and surprisingly flows forth from the events that took place during that first story. Shanks is deeply troubled by the events of Far Arden and he’s even contemplating self-imposed exile in the opening pages of Crater XV and starts to act on it. Of course, being the star of the series, Shanks gets over his problems but he does so with incredible difficulty. After reading both comics, it’s very easy to understand why Shanks is sometimes a jerk; he’s had a very difficult life.

Everything I enjoyed about Shanks’s first story also applies to Crater XV. I love the energy of the comic. I love the zany over-the-top feeling of it all and I’m blown away by the sheer imagination of the story. How all of the different plots fit into a coherent story about space exploration, orphans, spies, clean energy, dealing with death, and so many other things is just mind boggling. Had I not just read this comic, I wouldn’t believe all of those ideas could seamlessly fit together into a larger story. What makes Crater XV a special comic isn’t that dozens of interesting ideas are thrown together; it’s that they’re connected through human interactions and real emotion. I understand Shanks better at the end of the story as I did at the beginning. I understand other characters better at the end than I did at their introduction in the series.

Though I’m only really talking about Shanks, most of the characters have an interesting progression from the beginning of Crater XV to the end. I’m only talking about the old seadog on the cover because I don’t want to spoil anything. Most of the main characters in Crater XV are entirely new. The scale of the story is huge but it’s all centered on characters. The plotting is also spectacular. Cannon continuously undermines your expectations to wonderful effect. The ending of Far Arden was completely unexpected and though I’m really glad Cannon didn’t repeat the same kind of twist ending (I’m not even sure I can call it that because the ending, in retrospect, was rather organic in its development) he provides the reader with regular little twists and turns along the way.

Parts of the comic are absolutely charming because of the emotional undertones which are evenly spread throughout the comic. Scenes like the ones at the orphanage have heart breaking and gut busting scenes taking place on the same page. With Far Arden I was impressed with Cannon’s ability to write an improvised story that had so much energy, heart and fun that also managed to be a good story that had a distinct beginning, middle and end. With Crater XV, Cannon surprised me yet again but this time it was for many of the same reasons as before in addition to his skill in writing believable human drama amidst all of the resurrected space exploration programs, high sea adventures and hilarious mayhem taking place once again in the Canadian high arctic. The situations in which the characters create for themselves are ludicrous but Cannon deals with them with such earnestness that I can’t help but share their pain and their joy. I was sceptical that Cannon would be able to pull off a sequel to the impressive Far Arden but he pulls it off. Cannon’s imagination is seemingly limitless and his cartooning style is very endearing. It’s a killer combination and it would delight fans of adventure stories for many more years. If you haven’t taken the time to read Far Arden, give it go but pick up a copy of Crater XV at the same time because you’ll be looking for it next. 

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