By Dustin Cabeal
Having been a fan of Steve Orlando’s Under Tow, I was looking forward to this title. It seemed like a return to his high concept sci-fi storytelling that I’m a fan of. Namesake is a very high concept. Portals to another planet open every seven years, and suddenly magic has spilled out onto earth. Firemen now are charged with dousing the flames of magical fires as well as normal fires.
Our main character Jordan doesn’t let people talk shit about his family, even though they abandoned him in the streets and this is widespread common knowledge. It’s as if the entire city of Hartford, Connecticut knows about Jordan’s past. A thug that works for a gangster that runs a territory of the city completely untouched by law enforcement spots Jordan, talks shit and proceeds to have his finger nearly bitten off. No one talks shit about Jordan’s family.
After this, Jordan returns home and finds a package with two magical iron balls that apparently contains his two fathers. The story wants to make sure that you pick up on that fact, so it mentions it three or four times within the same number of pages. I have no idea what it’s relevance to the story is yet or if it has any. Again, it just really wants you to know. Jordan decides to take his two dads back to the other planet that’s just a portal ride away. They iron balls are illegal because they disturb the planet, but Jordan doesn’t care. The adventure begins… and then the cliffhanger makes it seem like the adventure ends. We’ll see, we have three more issues after all.
The unfortunate side effect of sci-fi stories that contain a high concept premise is that you have to explain that all to the audience. These “rules” of the world are what make the story unique, but explaining them in a way that isn’t boring or exposition is at times impossible. Orlando gives us four pages of radio chatter that fills us in for the most part on how everything works. It’s not as bad as a page of pure text, but it’s damn close. When our main character finally speaks, it’s when the goon is conveniently telling us Jordan’s backstory. Would a gangster spout out info about someone that they’re boss was looking for? Probably. Would they go to such lengths to make sure they told everyone that they knew all the details about this man’s life? Probably not.
I don’t know shit about this Jordan character. He’s a dude. I’m sure there’s something special about him right? He’s not just an abandoned son that punched a gangster and is now burying his dead dads… or is he? The only real problem with this first issue is that it didn’t particularly succeed in making me care about Jordan or his quest. Paired with the fact that I’m also no 100% sure of the “rules” of the world because they were spread out over radio chatter and convenient dialogue instead of someone just doing a panel of exposition and letting the story move on from there. It was a good attempt but ultimately didn’t accomplish as much as it needed to.
The art is enjoyable. There’s just a lot of missed opportunities with the visual storytelling. The first four pages never grabbed me and could have been of anything. They didn’t tell a story. They defined our characters job. It was more of a PSA than it was a story. The mid focused panels are the weakest part of the art. The proportions are strange, and the artist chose to fit the people into the panel rather than use a perspective that would have made them fit. The result is squished looking people, and it’s not pretty. There’s also a part when Jordan reads a letter and leaves his roommate and then after he leaves her their conversation kicks in over the other scene… it was confusing and made the art look out of sync with the narration. I understood what they were going for, but a different approach needed to be made.
Review wise, the second issue would have to do something worth talking about. More than likely I won’t be back to review the final three issues. On the level as a reader, I would give this series one more issue. I know it’s only four and most readers would say that’s enough of a reason to continue, but this first issue is weak and doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the remaining three. I’ll read another, but it has some work cut out for it. It’s a shame; I was hoping this one would hit the ground running; instead, it’s a stumble and trip.
Namesake #1 (of 4)
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Jakub Rebelka
Publisher: BOOM! Studios