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The first issue of Imperium from Joshua Dysart and Doug Braithwaite takes a lot of risks.
Where most mainstream comics choose to avoid the political pitfalls which inevitably arise by utilizing real-world conflicts as a backdrop to their story, Imperium courageously plunges headlong into them. Where the problems enumerated in the opening pages stem from are very real issues facing the world we live in. The vision which Harada projects into the minds of the Harbingers paints a vivid picture of the world we could have. It is a world where some of the greatest problems afflicting our own have been dealt with, from famine to disease to overpopulation. It is a world that any reader would love to live in.
A question often asked of the comic book community is how best creators can tread the line between addressing issues and minimizing them by resolving them in a fictional medium.
The script is unapologetically activist, containing such poetic nuggets as “no system could work optimally if even one human being had less of an opportunity than another…” To anyone familiar with Dysart himself, this should come as no surprise. He recently gave an interview to ComicBookResources while working with the UN Food Programme in Iraq. As such, it seems only natural that he has the Harbingers take direct action against one of the most violent ongoing conflicts afflicting the region in Syria.
Artistically, the book is a veritable seminar on how each individual element of the comic book craft can be used to enhance the driving themes of the text. Brian Reber and Dave McCraig’s colors tell a subtle story within the story. Where the manifest vision of the future that the psiots are attempting to build is depicted in bold, vibrant shades of primary colors, the scenes set in present day are completely the opposite. They run in muted earth tones, as if the present is but a dim shadow of a much better world. Doug Braithwaite’s pencils and inks combine beautifully to enhance this dichotomy. The Utopian future is outlined with clean, thick lines and soft textures which give it a warm, welcoming feel. It’s shapes are smooth, rounded and comforting. In contrast, the present day is drawn in stark lines, mottled with uneven textures which give it a rough, almost scratchy feeling. The final presentation excellently serves the purpose of creating a distinct difference between the two, and leading the reader not-so-subtly to draw conclusions about which is preferable.
From a plot standpoint, Imperium suffers a bit from being somewhat opaque. We are never really given any background on the characters and, as such, readers who are not well-versed in the history of the rebooted Valiant universe may find this book a bit hard to engage with. The characters themselves feel somewhat two-dimensional. Interestingly enough, the only one who seems very fleshed out is the one who has no actual flesh. Without giving the reader someone to care about and connect with, Imperium runs the risk of becoming overly plot-driven and hollow.
I wanted to love this book. It plays my environmentalist and futurist heartstrings like the proverbial harp from Hell. That said, when examining every element of it, it stumbled in more than a few places. Every comic is someone’s first, and first issues should serve as entry points into a world. If Imperium has a serious failing, it’s that it won’t readily resonate with readers who don’t already know the players
While thematically on-point and brilliantly crafted from an artistic perspective, Imperium isn’t new-reader friendly. It’s beautifully constructed but has zero in the way of character accessibility, earning it a respectable 7/10