Generally, I’m pretty ambivalent about whether I get a physical copy of a comic or a digital one. I like reading on a screen a little better, but physical copies are sometimes larger and can be shared around easier.
After two pages of reading my review copy of Echolands, I was certain that I had to get the physical version, because I now had a primal need to experience this story in the biggest goddamn format possible. With lengthy double-page panoramic shots across wide landscape-format pages, and dozens of art directions and aesthetics intersecting in fascinating ways, Echolands feels like a story so big that a screen struggles to contain it.
If you’ve ever read a book with art by J. H. Williams III, you know that you’re getting lusciously detailed art arranged in brilliant panel layouts. If you haven’t read a book by this guy, then fuck, here’s a great place to start. Frankly, Echolands would be great if it was in the hands of more conventional storytellers. In the hands of this virtuoso creative team, it’s phenomenal.
And though J. H. Williams III is the superstar name here, when I say “virtuoso,” that includes every member of the team. This book wouldn’t have the spark of life it does — not to mention it would be so intricate as to be difficult to read — without the vibrant heart provided by Dave Stewart’s colors. And speaking of difficult to read, panel layouts this ambitious eat lesser letterers for breakfast, but Todd Klein delivers. Each speech balloon is placed to guide you smoothly through the pages of the comic, which is a feat. On top of that, it delivers extra personality with a beautiful font and a slightly organic texture to the speech bubble itself.
It would be a fool’s errand to try and guess which parts of the writing belong to J. H. Williams III and which to Hayden Blackman, because their creative partnership is so close that it all melds seamlessly together. They’ve been co-storytellers for years, and friends far longer, which makes for incredible synergy.
But in case you were wondering, Hayden Blackman can write your pants off. During the last big push Star Wars made with its expanded universe, The Force Unleashed, his writing managed to humanize Darth Vader’s “secret apprentice.” He took an unkillable uber-badass out of a parody of a parody of a fanfiction, and gave him the heart of a wounded puppy and a satisfying character arc. To underscore how difficult that is to do in a AAA video game: at any point in time, you can lose a pivotal moment in the story and need to rearrange everything because the ice level it took place on ended up being unplayable. Good video game writers are some of the most talented people on the planet.
Now, once you get past the majestic lustre of its presentation, is the story of Echolands #1 good? Fuck yes, it is. Learning more about the characters and the world is a delight page after page. Every word and every panel draws you deeper in, until you find yourself at the last page thinking “fuck, now I have to wait for the next one?”
The setup is a pretty straightforward first act so far, but I would argue that’s a very smart choice. When you’re shoving this much raw creativity in the audience’s face from the get-go, sometimes you need a more traditional story structure for readers to cling to, like a life raft in the middle of the ocean. We don’t need a complex story in the first issue, we just need plot momentum and engaging characters to draw us into this world of dreams and nightmares, and they more than deliver that.
Hope and Cor are great, their dynamic is fun, and their goals propel the story along nicely. I don’t want to say much more than that, because it’s a treat to experience the rest of it yourself.