Review: Last Born by Patrick Meaney and Eric Zawadski

Last Born is published by Black Mask Studios, with issue #1 coming out tomorrow. The comic is written by Patrick Meaney and drawn, coloured, lettered by Eric Zawadski. My review is based on a digital review copy.

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What hits most after reading the issue is the extent to which is avoids categorisation. It starts off as a supernatural mystery, but then moves into a character-based drama before taking a step into horror, hard fantasy, and then finally full-blown sci-fi. It jumps at unexpected points into different genres, with the only constant being lead character Julia.

Thankfully, she provides a good grounding for readers, and it’s easy to quickly empathise with her. Her story is set in the 1960s, and it’s interesting to see how the narrative for her plays out as a more modernised retelling of the Alice in Wonderland fantasy. Her sense of boredom and anxiety to escape the repression which surrounds her is infectious and engaging, and provides the momentum which powers the reader through the comic – there are just enough pages to allow you to invest in her before she races off into the unknown.

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She’s also well-designed by Zawadski, who puts her in a red dress which I imagine will remain on her for the rest of the series. In the world of the 1960s – and especially the repressed household she’s living in – that red dress stands her out away from the rest of the supporting cast. She looks progressive for her time, and the colouring breaks her off the page – but then once the comic shifts tone and location, she looks dated amongst her new companions. It’s a smart touch, leaving her isolated in both the past and in the future, and keeping her foremost in the mind of the reader.

I’m already familiar with Zawadski’s art, as he pencilled webcomic The Ghost Engine for several years. He brings a strong sense of character and location to the comic, juggling the various locales of the comic in distinctive fashion which helps keep the reader aware of where they are at any given moment. The comic jumps around in various unexpected ways, but Zawadski keeps things grounded for the reader, and his storytelling from page to page is excellent.

The style reminds of Michael Gaydos, as it continually captures the characters at moments between expressions – rather than have everybody demonstrate a simple response to a situation, his art catches them a moment before or after they start responding to things. This creates an off-kilter style which makes them feel more messy and realistic, and builds into the script rather nicely.

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At the same time, some of his action sequences are a little confusing to follow at times. There are two sections which get a little lost – one coming right at the start, where the perspective changes from panel to panel in ways that disorientate the action and mixes up the characters involved; the second detailing a rabid fight which is at least partially deliberately an attempt to confuse the reader. For this exact reason, his conversational sequences are more interesting than most, as they similarly mess with perspective and positioning in ways which put some energy into the characters.

There’s a feeling that something is out-of-sync, and your enjoyment of the comic will depend upon whether you connect to that dynamic or not. The storytelling suggests this is intentional, at least in part, but your personal taste will decide whether you like it or not.

As far as I’m concerned – I want to read the next issue. I thought this was a well-constructed piece of work, which keeps you off-balance throughout and manages to pull off several twists without telegraphing them. There’s an immediate connection between the creative team which sparks, and they work well together in offering an off-kilter, almost overwhelming sense of scale and story – before reigning it all back in and redirecting the reader back into Julia’s perspective. Despite feeling like it may at times have gotten lost within itself, ‘Last Born’ proves to be a smart, aware comic, which leads in unexpected and rousing new directions on each page.

The Spire has an open submission policy, and accept review copies via the email address on the right. If you have a comic of your own you’d like to see reviewed on the site, please feel free to send it across – bear in mind that I’m going to give an honest opinion on the book, though! Reviews at The Spire can be up as well as down, etc etc.

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