Charlatan: Preludes begins with a quiet domestic scene that sets the tone of the book perfectly. Mary and Augie Halford are awakened by their alarm clock–which also wakes up their preschool-age daughter, Lucy. Excited to start a new day, Lucy dashes into her parents’ bedroom, and the happy family goes about their morning routine.
The alarm clock scene is a nice start to the book in several ways. First, the scene sets up the relationships of the characters in a way that quickly establishes how much they all care about each other. It’s obvious that this is a happy, loving family. That is a crucial fact as they deal with all the chaos and uncertainty that happen later in the book.
More importantly, the scene establishes the characters in a way that helps provide depth and insight into the ways that the characters handle the book’s major conflict, which hits very close to the core of what makes this family interesting and functional.
You see, somehow Lucy is the Chosen One–or, as the book puts it, “the Defuan, the champion who has arisen throughout time when the very existence of the universe itself has been placed in jeopardy.” Unfortunately, though, the job of being the Chosen One is often a suicide mission. Many of the previous Defuans have been killed while fulfilling their destinies.
Of course, Mary and Augie react to this fact like any parents would–with a combination of anger and fear. However, Mary’s reactions are especially intriguing. She reacts in ways that a reader might not immediately expect, though she has her own clearly understood reasons for her reactions.
Well, maybe Mary’s reactions are somewhat less interesting than her husband’s reactions. Because Augie somehow gains super-powers when he’s threatened. This fact defies all expectations in the story. Since Lucy is supposed to be the Chosen One, it seems impossible for her dad to be the one to manifest the powers.
However, as Augie and Lucy are attacked by a strange extra-dimensional creature, Augie finds himself glowing, and possessing super-strength and the power of flight. How did he get the powers, and what does it mean for him to be the one manifesting them? That is just one of the mysteries underlying this intriguing series.
There are a lot of mysteries underlying the story, and writer Gil Lawson does a nice job of alluding to many of those mysteries without feeling the need for directly explaining them. It’s clear that this first book is a scene-setter, the beginning of a larger story that will unfold in future books. Therefore, readers get a foreshadowing of those events in this volume with mysterious scenes that involve characters who are not central to the story in this volume.
For instance, there’s a scene early in the book in which an older woman describes mysterious changes in her husband. That incident culminates in a strange scene in which a mystic seer pronounces that the end of the world is at stake. We also get an interlude in which we see family friends of the Halfords dealing with a mysterious illness to their young child. While none of these scenes makes direct sense in the context of this book, it’s clear that each will pay off later in the series.
All of these layers of mystery and foreshadowed events add up to an intriguing package–a story that provides just enough answers to be satisfying while providing just enough intrigue for readers to want to come back for the second book.
Zeu Gouveia is a regular on the Comics Bulletin message boards, but I will try to be objective about his art in this book. Gouveia has a good sense for how to stage dramatic scenes effectively. Unlike many young artists, he has good fundamental storytelling skills–knowing how and when to use establishing shots intelligently, and how to stage quiet scenes so that they don’t read in ways that bore the reader.
However, he still has some work to do on his figures. At times, the characters look a bit like they’re molded out of plastic. Mary, especially, has a look that’s just too perfect in some panels.
Gouveia also has the common problem that crops up in the work of many illustrators working in comics–correctly depicting the size of little kids. There are scenes where Lucy just does not look realistic in comparison to her parents. Her proportions appear to be wrong. The proportions of children are different from those of adults, and Guiveia isn’t effective at depicting that fact. Lucy’s head is too small, and her arms and legs too short. Rather than a cute little girl, she looks like a adult who has the condition known as proportionate dwarfism (rather than disproportionate dwarfism).
However, that’s a minor complaint about a very entertaining book. Charlatan: Preludes has a nice combination of foreshadowing and drama, of good family connections, and real action and excitement. I want to see where the story goes.