Some stories start out gentle. They take you by the hand and slowly get you accustomed to the story, the world, and the characters, so that you’re comfortable diving in further. Echolands is not one of those stories. It immediately drops you into a sprawling world, in the middle of a chase scene, with only a short aside from our main character.
The first thing that must be discussed when talking about Echolands, written and drawn by J.H. Williams III and co-written by W. Haden Blackman, is the layout. This comic sticks out on the shelf because it is in a wide landscape format instead of the usual long vertical pages readers are used to. This changes the way panels are used, and makes the reader look over an entire two page spread often. This can make reading it digitally take more effort, but on the other hand the scrolling necessary creates an almost cinematic reveal of information. It makes sense that the author chose to tell the story this way, since it is constantly revealing huge landscapes and big, bold action.
The story centers around Hope Redhood, a thief that gets on the bad side of a powerful wizard ruler when she swipes a gem off of him. From the initial chase scene, it is clear that this world is made up of other disparate worlds, and each one has its own look. Horror Hill’s vampires and Frankenstein monsters are all drawn in black and white. Old Chicago’s gangster figures look like they’ve been cut right out of a 1940’s cartoon strip, while the glossy robot society would feel right at home in an episode of Transformers. It’s incredible seeing all this distinctly different-looking art live together on the page, and this book is worth reading for that alone.
The narrative itself is so far one big chase with worldbuilding sprinkled in. A kinetic, gory chase where heads explode and arms get ripped off. But it’s so quickly paced that it takes a few issues to get acquainted with the other people Hope is running with. I am very glad I read this as a whole volume instead of issue to issue since I could definitely see myself getting frustrated waiting to learn exactly what is going on. But by reading the first six issues together, the pace becomes more purposeful, and by the end we learn more about the side characters, the villain, and their motivations.
The combination of genres reminds me somewhat of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (classic canon like Treasure Island and Little Red Riding Hood are played with) and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (the contrasting art styles all working together). The action is exciting to behold, and the amount of detail in the big splash pages makes you want to go back and catch what you missed. There’s a visceral excitement in the fighting, and with the amount of death early on, I was in suspense, wondering who would make it to the next issue.
The long pages also allow for Hope and her companions to constantly bicker and talk over one another. The main crew is a dysfunctional group, so there’s satisfaction in seeing them be able to work together to survive. There is also a crucial in-world interview segment and advertisements at the end of each issue that make the world feel more lived in and possibly tease where the story is heading.
At Gatecrashers, we always keep the new reader in mind and how accessible things could be for them. If this is someone’s first story, it very well might put them off. The way the story is told and even the layout of it can prove to be challenging or overwhelming. But if you stick with it, you’ll find this volume to be a very compelling introduction to worlds that seem familiar but are combined into something brand new.
Again, I don’t think this is something that is for everyone, and I might even say that it is currently more worth having for the art than the narrative. But with how amazing that art is, and having faith that the story is going somewhere epic, I’d recommend anyone at least try it out and see if it is for you. This is definitely unlike anything else on the shelves right now, and that is something to appreciate.