There is something to be said for persistence, for a creator’s steadfast devotion to a concept over the course of many years. We’ve seen it in books, in print comics, on the web – Stephen King wrote his best sellers but always had some portion of “The Dark Tower” floating around the back of his head; Orson Scott Card returns to the Ender and Alvin Maker series; Harvey Pekar continues to plug away on “American Splendor.” So I have to give credit to Joachim Lipski – he’s been working on some aspect of ad1997 for close to 8 years now if I read the background notes properly. That amount of time spent thinking about the characters and the world shines through in his author’s notes. He obviously enjoys these characters, this setting, and the process he’s gone through to develop them. And many of his pages show a lot of care taken in the design and layout.
Lipski created the story out of order – he wrote and drew chapters 3 through 5 before really investing himself in chapters 1 and 2, and then jumped forward to the more recent chapters. With literally years passing between the creation of the middle chapters and the ones surrounding them, there is a noticeable difference in the quality of the art. Despite this, the look of the characters doesn’t change much – they remain mostly recognizable, but the men especially seem to meld together – it’s sometimes hard to tell poor Mr. Deckard from any of a handful of doctors and security men (Lipski admits that Deckard’s look changes the most throughout the course of the series, making him seem a bit like a shapeshifter), and I often confused Mr. Ludwig with Milo. This was sometimes distracting, but not enough to lessen my interest in the story.
In the more recently-drawn chapters, the art is cleaner while at the same time being less experimental in some respects. For instance, one of the pages in episode 4 plays with panel format and even the order in which the page should be read. It’s an interesting attempt at challenging both creator and reader – it doesn’t completely work (the page is almost too cluttered and the receptionist’s line about the passkeys being “quite sought after on the black market” is distracting) but it mostly works. The elevator effect in the center of the page is particularly good.
The story itself is a bit of a jumble – I’ll all for a good slow-boil mystery that adds new questions every time it answers one (I am a huge LOST devotee), but there has to be some consistency to the world in which the story is taking place. The world (in this case, the city-state of Arcadia over which the AD Corporation seems to have control) is revealed to us slowly – at the beginning of the story we see a vintage turbo-prop plane shot down simply for entering the city airspace, without the shooters even hailing the plane to find out why it’s there. By the time we get to the latest pages of the story, we’ve come to understand that AD does run the city, despite attempts to make things look like an actual democracy. Arcadia has technology that far outpaces our real world tech in 1997 or now, firmly placing this in a different Earth than our own. Everything we see is science-based … until the introduction of a seemingly-immortal, super-intelligent gorilla. Now, I’m sure this gorilla is going to play a large role in the ultimate revelation of the story’s mysteries – but right now, he’s having the same effect on me that Sayid seeing the remains of a giant four-toed statue on the island’s coast did (at the end of season two of Lost) – I’m scratching my head thinking “where the heck did that come from?” There also seems to be a tendency to drop storylines suddenly – we’re told in an author’s note at one point that the Milo subplot is now done, and what we were supposed to get from the subplot is explained to us in the text rather than revealed in the story itself; I admit that annoyed me a bit.
The main characters are interesting, and they are why I’ll stick around despite the bumps and tangents the story seems to take. I genuinely like Naomi Bowman and what to find out why she seems possessed by either an evil cloned twin or an alien intelligence contained in a marble. I like her friend Jack, despite his severe over-reaction to seeing the girl of his dreams (I understand being shy, but Jack is soap-opera-level shy, and it begins to grate after a while). And I intensely dislike Mr. Motes, the CEO of AD and lead villain of the piece, which makes me want to know what he’s up to. And even poor Mister Deckard, who wants to do the right thing, if he could only figure out what that is.
I’d give this three stars out of five – I admire the creator’s commitment to the story and willingness to admit the flaws the art has, and I like the characters and occasional experimentation in the art, but the execution of the story needs work.
by Joachim Lipski
review by Anthony Cardno