By Oliver Gerlach
Johnathan Lewis and Chalk Yeso’s Penumbra #1 feels like a bizarre throwback. Everything about it feels oddly familiar, but not in any particularly positive way.
This is a story about a lady secret agent with an inexplicably constantly-changing costume. There isn’t very much plot, and what there is, is as simple as “she has to steal a thing.” There’s not much going on in this at all, and none of it is outstanding and interesting. This is, to put it bluntly, a very bland comic. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about at all, just that there is nothing exceptional about it.
Every single aspect of this comic brings me back to when I was about 14, reading manga in my local library. It’s got a very manga-influenced art style, of the sort that features no distinguishing features whatsoever; this is manga styling in the most generic “anime fanart” tradition. It’s technically well-executed and consistent (apart from Penumbra’s dubious and inconsistent costume choices), but it’s very much fitting into a specific aesthetic. Beyond that, the lettering is also reminiscent of translated manga. The balloons are in odd shapes, and the font is that one specific one that all of the major manga series used to use. The caption lettering is, once again, familiar; that specific internal monologue style that goes in large, free-floating letters.
The one aspect of this book that doesn’t look like the manga of a decade ago is the coloring, which is bright and bold and has no distinctive style whatsoever; it’s the coloring of every competent DeviantArt fanartist, once again feeling about ten years out of date. Even the logo looks like it was designed in WordArt in 2005 or thereabouts. There’s nothing technically wrong with any of this; it’s just a strange throwback to specific types of media from a decade ago.
While I may not have much of a sense of style and intent with the art, the plot and characterization are much more straightforward: there isn’t very much of either. This is not a strong debut for a new character; by the end of the issue, there’s no strong sense of personality to any character in the book, and very little of any interest has actually happened.
Penumbra #1 is a technically perfectly adequate if weirdly dated, comic. However, it fails to do anything of any interest at all. It doesn’t have any particularly egregious issues, but neither does it have any feature deserving of recommendation. I’ve never read anything quite like this, simultaneously such a strong throwback and such an oddly dull read.
Writers: Johnathan Lewis
Artists: Chalk Yeso
Letters: Chalk Yeso and Johnathan Lewis