Saturday, January 3, 2015

Review - Theodicy: Book Two

Recently, I reviewed Book One of the Theodicy series of comic books. That review can be found here. For all of my complaints about that issue, the fact remains undisturbed that I ended up liking Book One.

Theodicy: Book Two takes up where Theodicy: Book One left off. Unfortunately for this series, Book Two offers no salvation for comic book fans who gravitate toward either art or coloring, to sate their thirst for comic book greatness.

The very same individuals who contributed in various ways to the creation of Book One are also responsible for the creation of Book Two. How very unfortunate then, for both this series and its readership, that the visual imagery offered up in Theodicy: Book Two remains mired where it shouldn't be.

Lest anyone misconstrue where my criticism falls the hardest, make no mistake - the coloring remains the biggest disappointment in my exploration of this particular comic book series.

I will even go so far as to say that the art and the coloring for Book Two are worse than they were for Book One.

Nice speech bubbles. Good lettering. Deficient anatomy. So-so coloring.


Well, at least in Theodicy: Book One, there was an entire page of art - namely, the one that features what I shall dub "the water scene" that converted me to a fan of Book One. Nothing, whatsoever, in Theodicy: Book Two even remotely approaches the visual impact that the page in question from Book One managed to achieve. In a word, that page left its mark. In contrast, Book Two foundered.

Good visual energy is generated here.
The problem with Theodicy: Book Two is not the story. The underlying storyline remains viable. The writing continues to engage me. The dialogue between characters is strong, and the work as a whole benefits substantially by presenting the reader with intelligently conceived characters.

That is not to say that all characters are equally strong, but this comic book series has a cast of characters that includes several different ones that are worth reading about and following. Notably, Book Two introduces a character who is a miracle investigator that expands upon an already solid cast.

Special effects lettering in Book Two is slightly improved upon from what we were treated to in Book One of the Theodicy series. Even still, it remains a largely unimaginative visual footnote. There remains enormous room for utilization of special effects lettering to drive the visual interest element of this series. Basically, it's largely a missed opportunity, one that the series' creators seem content to do little with.

How boring an example of special effects letting is this?

On the lettering as a whole, it remains pretty solid. Indeed, the lettering is one of the saving graces of this comic book title. Some of the speech bubbles try to cram a bit too much text into them, resulting in smaller text than I would prefer. But, none of it rose to the level of being a critical flaw.

On a positive note, there are numerous examples of lettering in Theodicy: Book Two that are right on the money. In comic books, even though it often seems to be lost on the bulk of the independent comic book industry, lettering is a big deal.

Good lettering making a solid and positive visual impact.
A really big deal, in fact!

Lettering is arguably the most under-appreciated facet of comic book creation. Good lettering is worth its weight in visual gold to a comic book. Letterer Kel Nuttall is pulling his fair share of weight - and then some, where this comic book series is concerned. I single Kel out for special recognition, by virtue of the fact that the lettering on display warrants it.

Verily, in my review of comic books, I have no vested interest in crucifying the creators of the very things that I undertake to review. Whether I gape in awe and admiration, or whether I reel, aghast at what I find, nonetheless, I enjoy comic books as a medium of entertainment. I also thoroughly enjoy encountering comic book creators foisting new comic book creations into the public psyche.

That said, as I explore the pages of Theodicy: Book Two, as I flip them back and forth, going over them time and time, again, I invariably keep coming back to what I feel are the biggest shortcomings with the Theodicy series, to date.

This is NOT professional grade coloring!
One, the coloring. Two, the art.

The art is a combination of two things - pencils and inking. Because the colorist keeps on saturating the panels with his coloring theology of choice, the end result of the penciling and the inking is continually corrupted, visually speaking.

The colorist isn't without talent, to be certain. Actually, there is a lot of coloring talent on display across the pages of Books One and Two in the Theodicy series.

That said, the coloring of human skin and the propensity for glaring, plain backgrounds are primary contributors to the visual famine that plagues the imagery of this comic book series. The attempt to utilizing lighting and shadows on faces, in particular, leaves me shaking my head in dismay.

My colorist, my colorist, why hath thou forsaken me?

White splotches populate people and walls.
The inherent nature of comic books as an art form typically means that pencils, inking, and coloring all intermingle to such a degree that, absent seeing each contribution standing alone, it can be a constant challenge to give proper and full credit where it is due.

I believe that the underlying pencils are more at fault than the inking, where Theodicy: Book Two is concerned.


For the very simple reason that it falls to the pencils to establish the various visual zones or segments of white space. Inking is often referred to as the embellishment of pencils, although personally speaking, I think that such a characterization substantially understates inking as its own medium of expression.

In Theodicy: Book Two, the inker is working with backgrounds that, in numerous instances, are lacking in any actual details to ink. The end result is a diminishment of the comic book's overall visual impact. While some instances of this technique are useful for focusing the reader upon a particular character, other instances of it leave me wondering why a given panel bothers to make so little impact upon me. That is a good way to generate disinterest on the part of the reader, which is something that a comic book should strive to avoid.

Boring road. Boring sidewalk. Boring car. Boring victim.
This latest installment in the Theodicy series does not mean that the inker gets off scot-free, by any means. Close ups of stained glass windows, walls made of bricks or blocks, and even doors are missed opportunities for the inker to increase the visual heft of this book.

But, I don't read through or visually explore Theodicy: Book Two, and say to myself, "Hey, the inking of this comic book is really screwing this one over!" That's simply not the case. The greatest visual sins of Theodicy: Book Two lie not with the inker.

One of what I feel to be amongst the greatest mistakes of aspiring comic book creators is what I shall characterize as the static visual treatment of the background environment in which comic book characters are visually posited before the reader.

Theodicy: Book Two is guilty of this. Take, for instance, a wall or a road. In one panel, a very light visual treatment of such innocuous, ordinary things might be beneficial to a comic book. Other panels featuring such things might benefit greatly from greater attention to detail or emphasis of the same. Book Two of the Theodicy series deserves to be taken to task for failing to visually demonstrate a keen appreciation for this basic fact.

Infrared vision or visual eyesore?

This comic book did make some attempts at being imaginative with coloring, notably where the Sanction Collection Agency is attempting to collect a "debt." I am talking about a scene where one of that entity's personnel utilizes infrared vision to see inside of a house. But, imaginative though it may be in concept, nevertheless, it ends up coming across as some of the worst coloring in the issue, in practice.
Here is a better example of a concept effectively implemented, visually.

Overall, the problem with the coloring lies less in the palette of colors chosen by the colorist than with their penchant for manipulating their colors with filter effects. That's how I will characterize it, anyway.

Some of the speech bubbles with yellow border that appeared at the beginning of Book Two, I felt that they worked fairly well, in the instances in which they were resorted to. I did not really care for the speech bubbles that appeared further back in the issue, which featured yellow coloring on the interior of the speech bubbles. This particular item wasn't visually critical, but I'm not really sure what the rationalization was for it being resorted to, in the first place.

Quality speech bubbles and nice lettering.
Overall, the presentation of speech bubbles in Theodicy: Book Two was visually strong. Both the speech bubbles and the narrative boxes are visual positives for this issue.

There are some decent facial expressions in Book Two, but overall, I don't think that the penciler utilization of facial expressions was as strong, as it was in Book One which preceded it. For the very reason that the Theodicy series is, at its core, a tale of human drama playing itself out against a backdrop of theological trappings, to not capitalize upon the use of facial expressions (and the attendant art form of exaggeration that they naturally embody), is to do a great disservice to this comic book series. It falls to the penciler to dominate this particular aspect of the panel work. More attention to detail is needed in this area.

This lettering, while mild, is more visually interesting than the anatomy.
As a whole, Theodicy: Book Two succeeds at the individual panel level more than it does as a collective whole. Certainly, it succeeds at advancing the storyline, but what it does not do is to maintain the same degree of momentum achieved at the end of Theodicy: Book One.

On the story end of things, Theodicy: Book Two leaves the reader hanging in suspense. Book Two succeeds on this level, but I don't believe that it pulled it off quite as successfully as was achieved with the ending of Book One in the series.

Lots of visual eye candy in play. This panel clicks.
Because the series encompasses a setting where violence is readily resorted to by certain elements, it leaves the reader wondering which of the characters will actually make it and which ones won't. One level which I feel Theodicy, as a series, succeeds at is on the level of persuading me, as a reader, to begin to grow attachment to certain of the characters. This is important, as an ingredient of success for the human drama element of the tale.

Yellow border on speech bubble succeeds in spite of yellow sky glare.
Theodicy: Book Two shows progress, I think, in the area of human hair. It's a small item, to be certain, but I do feel that hair is one of the better depicted aspects of human anatomy to be found in this series, so far.

Some of the characters in this series utilize emotion, well, and this is showcased in some of the dialogue that takes place between characters. This is one of the core reasons that the human drama of the story actually enjoys some tangible drama in its telling.

Good injection of emotion.
In summation, after having read through Theodicy: Book Two from cover to cover, I find myself still interested in learning what is yet to come. The ending of Book One left me in a more elevated state of interest, compared to Book Two, but when all is said and done, and you get right down to it, I still find myself along for the ride, as this series heads into Theodicy: Book Three.

Writer: Chad Handley
Penciler: Fernando Brazuna
Inker: Ryan Boltz
Colorist: Minan Ghibliest
Letterer: Kel Nuttall

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