Monday, March 31, 2008

Otherworld


Phil Jimenez has awesome art. It's that simple. His art is great, and his writing is good. I'm not going to lie and say he's Grant Morrison, but he's effective. Otherworld is his creator-owned miniseries for Vertigo back in 2005. It was supposed to run for 12 issues, but ended up being 7. I just finished reading it and I'm going to review it.

Otherworld is supposed to be "Real World meets Lord of the Rings meets Tron" according to the writer-artist himself. Essentially, a college girl and her friends receive special powers and get whisked away to a floating island in the middle of an other-dimensional sea and are forced to lead opposite sides in a war for reality, the two sides consisting of high-fantasy character-types (orcs, trolls, mages, etc) and high-sci-fi character types (cyborgs, huge machines, etc). However, the miniseries ends before the war can begin. Instead, it ends with both sides finally getting their respective armies together.

The good? Well, of course the art is amazing. There's a lot of computer manipulation with Jimenez' highly detailed line work, especially for the technological stuff. It's kind of like Tron, but if Tron was made ten years from now. I've always loved Jimenez' art, and would almost take him over Frank Quitely or Bryan Hitch, but Jimenez' characters' noses are often big. I don't know why.

This is fairly complex plot that takes a while to get going. This isn't simply Batman beating on the Joker for 22 pages. There's quite a bit of character development, especially setting up both sides of the war. The group of friends/strangers are split down the middle and end up throwing in their powers with whatever side they end up with. There's quite a bit of sociological and psychological commentary from the narrator, giving us some pretty deep insights into the nature of the technological City, the warring factions of the fantasy world, and the characters' torn politics.

The problem, however, is that all of the great insights come from narration, not from plot, action or character. The narrator clues us into all the fancy plot twists, all the thoughts and motivations of the characters, and even the secret origin of the floating island called Otherworld. This miniseries' problems can be summed up in one (made up) word: infodump. This is a lot of infodumping, almost as much as a Neal Stephenson novel! Jimenez would have had a better time with 12 issues than 7. He didn't even need to expand the plot: keep it the same, but flesh out reveals and make them organic.

It's also sometimes hard to understand what's even going on. Because the story has been chopped by 5 issues, it's like Jimenez chopped individual panels. We're moving from one action to the next, and I don't see how. The specific movements lack any panel-fluidity or continuity. Things just happen, like static photos, rather than dynamic movement between panels. I can't say for sure if this is a writer problem, or an editing problem, as aforementioned. This choppiness is very evident in terms of dialogue. Conversations flow within one panel, but from one panel to the next, it's quite halting. This pulls me away from the story. Luckily, the dialogue that does flow isn't awkward or amateurish, which is often a problem with artist-writers (who are artists first), such as Todd MacFarlane.

Overall it was an entertaining read. It wasn't a simple fantasy or sci-fi story, and the art was terrific and the characters were fairly believable. Jimenez needs some work on fleshing things out, and more fluidity in panel movement, but otherwise this is an okay comic. Not the greatest, but good. I'd recommend it for fans of fantasy or sci-fi or for fans of Jimenez. For capes-readers, not so much.

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