By Dustin Cabeal
Typically when you read a series of graphic novels, you become aware of the structure of the story. Many writers use the same setups and pacing to give each volume a familiar feel. The problem with this is that by the time you reach the end, you’re complacent with the material. The setup and pacing for the second volume of Isabellae are vastly different from the first. Whereas the first volume of Isabellae had several reveals and high points, this volume of the series is slowly building towards the ending.
Our story has thankfully jumped forward some. Instead of seeing all the annoying, “Can I be on your boat” crap that’s usually associated with a story of this era, we just find our trio on a boat already. Isabellae is the bodyguard for a man claiming to be an artist. I say “claiming” because it’s relatively evident that it’s a cover story of some kind, but Isabellae doesn’t press him about it until someone tries to take the dudes life. She is still distracted by her sister who they’re chasing in the boat ahead of them. Her dead father continues his efforts to stop her, but this only causes a rift between them; a rift that grows larger and larger throughout the volume. There isn’t much else to explain or discuss about the issue besides just spoiling the ending, which I won’t do. It is a beautiful ending to a volume. It not only made this chapter of the story stand all on its own but its full of consequences for the coming chapters. The status quo established in the first two volumes will never be the same.
The writing continues to be well-polished. Isabellae and her father still talk a bit too much, spouting off a lot of exposition. This carries over to the conversations Isabellae has with the artist, but she can barely carry a conversation with her companions. That last part isn’t a knock, it just shows that she’s more comfortable talking to men in a father like position, but the exposition needs to be toned down. Thankfully, the writing is strong enough that the artist is still trusted to do their part of the story and not be at the mercy of the exposition.
The artwork continues to be detailed and stunning. Listen, being on a boat that’s going on a long journey in the middle ages, is boring. The same things happen over and over, and that’s not excluded here. That part of the story was predictable, but what made it more than tolerable was the gorgeous artwork. The creative panel layouts which gave a sense of the ship and the size, to the vibrant coloring and skilled use of shadows. The ending, in particular, is lovely to look at because much like the story the art is building towards the finale as well. It’s poetic and captivating.
The only negative I can find with this volume is that there isn’t as much of a reason to re-read it as the first volume. Because it has the intentional buildup to the ending’s reveal, you’ll always know exactly where it's going. The conclusion is amazing, and it was nice to see that this volume had its own path, but hopefully, the next volume has its own as well. It was nice just to see a second volume live up to its potential and deliver an entertaining sophomore chapter, willing leaving you interested in more. I for one will be back for more Isabellae.
Isabellae vol. 2 – A Sea of Corpses