By Justin Wood
It's a lot like Waterworld. It's a little like Tank Girl. One bit reminds me a lot of Y: The Last Man. The Chasing Arrows feels a lot like a lot of things that already exist, but unlike a lot of books read here on Bastards, here this doesn't raise my red flags. The only time clichés and allusions are crimes are when you get the sense that the writer just wanted to take credit for a story they read elsewhere or to plug holes in their writing instinctually with overly familiar shortcuts. The Chasing Arrows feels familiar but brings enough of its own ideas to the table to result in a new property worth seeing what it builds into.
It's the post-apocalypse (I know, I know, everyone get their collective sighs out of the way) and the sea levels rose to Kevin Costner levels, with the remaining tiny patches of land being the home of the most well-off while the less fortunate have to make do in the open ocean. Our hero, Inara, is predictably in the latter category, an ace mechanic in a clave of survivors living in a bizarrely spacious sunken freighter, repurposed as a city deep under the ocean.
Beyond that, there isn't much more to say about the plot without simply summing up the events, as this opener is one slow burn. More time is spent explaining the inner workings of Inara's aquatic home than exploring what makes her unique as a protagonist or establishing a plot, but somehow it works out in this issue. The book doesn't seem to be in a rush to get anywhere and the few preludes of plot we get here, as meager as they are, seem to suggest planning that refreshingly doesn't seem to rely on every issue ending with a cliffhanger hook. Inara is a predictable combination of character traits, a set so familiar these days it might as well be the official “strong female character”, but she is written likeably and the book doesn't come off as desperate to make her a relatable diversity icon the same way books like Kim and Kim and Lumberjanes can. She's a scrappy gal trying to make-do in a fucked up world and she's written plainly as such.
This isn't to say that Chasing Arrows doesn't pull some less fortunate writing traits from modern comics. Probably the most distracting aspect of the writing was the frequent use of author notation. From spelling out easily decipherable slang to awkwardly unnecessary text gags, the use of supplementary boxes and arrows feel influenced by the recent contributions of writers like Fraction and Zdarsky, only Chasing Arrows doesn't really sport the pop comedy sensibilities of things like Sex Criminals and Howard the Duck, making these choices feel noticeably inappropriate. I also wasn't fond of the swapping back and forth between internal and external exposition by our heroine, feeling that the information could have been just as clearly communicated with one technique, especially since this first issue is intentionally structured in such a way to naturally deliver an exposition dump.
I am similarly mixed about the art. Not to say it isn't professional, the art is cleanly rendered, vibrantly colorful, and features dynamic lighting and capable composition. While not the most expressive, the characters are illustrated with charisma, and Inara herself is illustrated well, the right balance of charming and strong. Ultimately though, the art isn't a strong match for the story, as a heavy portion of the book is building this detailed fictional world and the art paired with it lacks...well, detail. The lighting sets the tone wonderfully, from the eerie glow of the musty underbelly of the ship to the molten bloom of the furnace room, color work doing a great job making the scenes tactile, but are let down by the gestural simplicity of the environments.
Most backgrounds feel vaguely defined, lacking the architectural precision, not to mention attention to texture, that would have best benefited a book about people living in a greasy, rusting, mechanical behemoth. It's hard to tell if the cavernous interiors of the sunken cruiser was an intentional reference to the monumental scale of pre-disaster future technology or simply a casual aesthetic choice divorced from the practical detail the writing seems to want to lean on.
On top of that, it leaves a lot of characters and environments feeling unnaturally clean, needing a few more coats of grime and sweat to really sell the hard scrapple life-on-the-edge soul. The book looks good compared to a lot of indies I pick up, this is no hack job, but the lack of attention to drafting detail definitely robbed the world and its characters of some valuable weight and grit.
By the end of the issue, however, the book had sold me on its premise. It doesn't seem to want to aim for grand, instead being a story about daily survival and human will, the tenaciousness of a species fighting to survive itself. While vague on its promises of future direction, the first issue establishes a decent base from which to grow; a spunky lead, a different take on the burned out future, and lots of directions to go in a second issue. The apocalypse is getting pretty stale as a jumping off point, but it’s all just window dressing if the characters are strong enough and the story keeps you turning the page.
Chasing Arrows #1
Writer: Thomas Miller-Donnelly
Artist: Neal D. Anderson