Monday, 13 August 2012

Comic Book Review | Memorial by Chris Roberson and Rich Ellis

So what if I were to tell you that there's a world where the folks from our favourite childhood storybooks live and breathe like real people? Would you be blown away?


Well, nor was I. Though I had high hopes for Memorial: a six-issue miniseries - now a single gorgeous graphic novel - written by iZombie's Chris Roberson, complete with cartoonish art courtesy of comic book newcomer Rich Ellis, and lush covers by M. W. Kaluta. But it's basically another take on Fables.

That said, the great game that made Bill Willingham's name was for its part far from original, so I certainly didn't come to Memorial desperate to dismiss the thing as a pointless carbon copy based on a couple of conceptual coincidences. Sadly, however, this short series never really rises above its clear and present predecessors — and please, pay particular attention to that there plural, because other obvious influences are waiting in the wings. The Sandman, for example. At times, Memorial reads like a deleted scene from said, set in The Dreaming.

Roberson sets the bar hella high, then, and perhaps that's part of the reason why Memorial misses the mark. But make no mistake: several other factors contribute to its at best graceful failure, including lazy storytelling devices like the amnesia our heroine Em - named after the letter on her necklace - suffers from at the outset.

Another thing that annoyed me was how absolutely passive Em is as a protagonist. Throughout the series she stumbles from fantastical place to place, meets a overwhelming cast of characters, becomes drawn into a potentially crucial conflict... all the while without asserting her agency. Come the last act, even, Em's a pawn in someone else's play for power, and unsurprisingly, the path of least resistance she follows - and we with her - makes for a lackluster narrative.

In the final summation, Rich Ellis' art fares better than Roberson's writing, but I didn't find it particularly inspiring either. He deserves some applause for his attention to detail, but well developed backgrounds can only carry one so far, and I'm afraid Ellis' characters looked too much like cartoons for my liking. As ever, your mileage may vary — after all, beauty lies in the beholder's eyes.

So: the storytelling is twee, the cast never quite comes alive, and the setting - to put it politely - could be better differentiated. But putting aside my problems with Memorial in terms of narrative and character, as well as its telling resemblance, I don't actually doubt that there are interesting stories to be told in this world. Better Roberson had started with one of them than the six issues of insipid set-up this collection consists of, certainly, but even then, this book bears a small portion of potential.

Which is to say, Memorial is far from the home run I had hoped for, but it isn't entirely terrible either. It's muddled, derivative, and difficult to get into, but now that the worldbuilding's well and truly begun - if not done - and we've met the major players, it's got to get better. Or else... what was the point?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I never thought I'd see you use the term "Hella" in a review...regardless, another fine review.

    I've been wanting to check out something of Roberson's, but I'll likely pass on Memorial. Perhaps iZombie. Allred's art is pretty awesome.