By Dustin Cabeal
In comics, we tend to be spoiled by the monthly releases from our favorite creators. We forget that those few pages we hold in our hand are the results of months of work that were done months ago just so that we could hold it in our hand on time. It’s why I continue to lean more and more towards trades and graphic novels because you don’t see as many dips on the story or the art. The point of bringing that up is because it feels like ages since we last saw anything from creator Faith Erin Hicks, but in reality, it hasn’t been that long and while we didn’t see a one-shot or a mini from, she was creating an entire books series for us to enjoy. But that rages against our “what have you done for me lately” comic reading mentality, doesn’t it? Clearly, she wasn’t taking a break, but the out of sight out of mind nature of our monthly books probably made more than a few of you forget all about her tremendous work.
The Nameless City is what she’ll likely be working on for a while. The second book is announced at the back of this volume, and it’s likely that Hicks just kept on going after completing this volume if it was ready to be announced. And it’s strange because that’s bittersweet. The charm of Hicks’ work is that she’s always working on something new and different. A different genre and world. And it just brings to light that while this is a good read and one of the better graphic novels I’ve read this year, I didn’t fall in love with the story. Sure I would read more, but I’m not dying to.
The elephant in the room for this series is that there are some slight similarities to Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’m not even well versed about the show, and I can spot similarities in the design and the fictional era of history, the story seems to take place. That’s kind of where it ends, but it’s enough that others are likely to notice and with a quote from a creator of Avatar on the cover it quickly plants the seed for you.
The story is about the Nameless City. A city that has been conquered over and over to the point that everyone has a different name for it. The different societies that have converged on the city all call it what they want which makes a name for the city pointless. We follow Kai as he arrives at the city as part of the new students set to be trained in defending the city for the current rulers the Dao. His father is a General in the army and meets him for the first time by coming to the city. Eventually, he befriends a native to the city, a girl by the name of Rat. They become friends after a long series of training. Kai wants to learn how to run rather than fight. Eventually, the politics of the city invade their world, and we see that the Dao ruling the city is not as carefree as it seems.
The story when you boil it down is mostly about treating people of all nationalities with respect as people. There’s an ongoing theme in the story about the Dao not treating the native inhabitants as people because they’re not Dao. This is one of the core problems Rat has with the Dao and with people trying to rule the city in general. There are other messages in the story, and while they’re good messages and great to introduce to young readers (who this story is geared towards), they are at times heavy-handed.
The artwork is vintage Faith Erin Hicks. If you’re familiar with her style and artwork, then you already know what to expect. I wish there were more to say about her artwork, but it frankly didn’t look any different than her last work or the one before. She has a very consistent style, and that’s nothing to complain about. Jordie Bellaire joins her on colors and just by saying you probably understand that one of the top ten colorists in the business colored this graphic novel. Bellaire brings out the depth of details in Hicks work and allowed her to add more to the artwork because it was being colored and not left in black and white. They work well together and deliver some impressive visuals.
There’s a lot of talent behind this book. I can fully acknowledge just how good it is. The story is well-plotted, and Hicks leaves breadcrumbs for the next volume while still presenting a complete and enjoyable story in this volume. The art stands on its own and is a credit to visual storytelling. At the end of the day though, I didn’t love the story or the world. It was good. It was way better than most, but it just never roped me in as her previous work had done. I can see the passion, the effort, the building blocks of a franchise, but at the end of the day, I don’t know if I really would have missed anything by not reading this volume. I’m still curious about the next volume of The Nameless City, but in the way that you grab one more issue before dropping a series. I say all this knowing full well that others will probably love this book and I encourage you to read it and become one of those people. I by no means feel as if I’m the majority here, but rather someone that maybe just missed the mark with this story.
The Nameless City
Writer/Artist/Creator: Faith Erin Hick
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: 4/5/16
Format: TPB; Print