So a couple weeks ago I attended an online comics convention called WebReef. Not a big event or nothing, but it was a good chance to get some networking, socializing with other comic artists and enthusiasts. It was hosted by the creators of the comic Shadowbinders, (Kambrea and Kneon, unaware of real names) and alongside the other comics I found that weekend I figured I’d give theirs a readthrough as well. And since it’s been a few weeks since our last review was posted, I figured I’d write a review for it as well.
Unfortunately, I have to be honest: I didn’t like what I saw.
The comic starts off pretty good. An action sequence, some interesting-looking characters on a flying ship and a battle. The sequence is brought to an end by a man in red shooting fire from his hands – the man has piercing blue eyes. A mug shot of this man’s face was the host’s avatar at Webreef, and it was those eyes that got me interested in the first place, it was an excellent first impression on a character. There’s no text through the opening sequence of 8 pages, and it’s revealed to be a dream. We enter the life of a teenage girl.
The art is vibrant, full color, and I cant say anything bad about it. My socks weren’t blown off, but I can tell a good amount of effort goes into these pages, and I have respect for that. But it’s the writing that started to turn me off. We go into Mia’s world at school, her crush on the best-looking boy in school and his girlfriend being unbelievably cruel to her (honestly, I don’t think I ever met a bigger bitch in my own high school, and I was the school-wide target for 3 years). Typical high school girl. It’s not for a little while yet that we get back to the ship, which … is another dimension, or something. It’s not made clear, perhaps that’s part of the mystery. But I’m going to stop myself here from simply recapping the story, because that’s not what a review is supposed to do.
The real cast of Shadowbinders is in the extra-dimensional world. Mia’s friends in the real world seem to lack depth, making it difficult for me even able to remember their names. Unfortunately, the same thing happens in the extra-dimensional world. Of the 4 inhabitants of the flying ship that Mia finds herself stuck on, one is a back-talking rabbit-thing who only ever succeeded in slightly disturbing me, one was a woman whose name escapes me (the cast page tells me it's Elaina, and that's not ringing any bells for me) and who seems to serve absolutely no purpose on the ship at all. Tristan is an engineer of sorts who seems to be the right-hand man, and the ship’s Captain, Rhen, is the piercing blue-eyed man… whose first impression breaks down as soon as he opens his mouth.
Rhen is revealed to be a womanizing scoundrel of sorts. He is the most powerful mage in this world, which I suppose gives him some leeway for being overconfident, however he seems to be unable to keep both his eyebrows on the same level and consistently sports a wide, toothy grin. This is referred to as the “Smarm Brow” and my opinion on it was solidified once I’d seen a Lackadaisy page tackle it.
As for the events in the comic, the one thing about it that stood out to me is that everything seems to be just a little bit rushed. The amount of stuff that has happened in 150 pages (half-pages, actually, by the comic’s format) is a little offputting and nothing seems to organically move from one place to another. Logistically it works fine, but nothing had the time to really sink in, it was just off to the next location or story point. Things begin and end rather abruptly and none of the characters have reacted to something in a way that makes me identify with them. Rhen seemed to take an immediate interest and recognize the ring that Mia uses to travel between worlds, which got my attention, but focus was then taken off of that point and hasn’t been brought up again yet.
All in all, nothing about Shadowbinders stood out to me as original, unique, or risqué enough to become really memorable. I would love to see some moments of long-form introspection or one-on-one conversation between the characters that doesn’t revolve entirely around Mia or her dreams – stuff that lets us see into the characters’ inner lives, their personalities. Something to paint the rest of their actions with, and to identify with, because at the moment the only things I can bring to mind is that Rhen is overconfident and cocky, and Mia is … typical. The others haven’t even shown themselves to be that much. I feel like there’s too much focus on the events themselves, and not enough focus on how the characters react to and are affected by them. Like we’re being strung along through plot points and the people exist only as a vessel to carry us from place to place.
But, that’s just my opinion. With 2,300 likes on facebook at 150 pages (Our World has 60 and our facbeook likes never went above 10, half of which are my own real-world friends who don’t even read comics) they must be doing something right. Kneon is also capable of writing some damn good articles, if his investigation of TopWebcomics rankings is any indication (which can, and should be, read here: http://shadowbinders.com/2012/02/09/topwebcomics-com-the-elephant-in-the-room/) but as for his comic itself, I can’t say it caught me.