Publisher: Archaia Studios Press
Once again, ASP is printing a quality work of fantasy comic book fiction in the tradition of Mouse Guard and Robotika. In the realm of single-issue comic publishers, they are among the creme-de-la-creme, producing stories with substance, fantastic artwork, and (most importantly) respect for their clientele. Okko is no different, as it is a feudal Japanese-flavored tale filled with unique elements and outstanding outwork. While you will probably ascertain the many influences on Hubís work, the combination of the elements produces a very attractive, very readable product that will surely excite comic fans around the globe. Okko was originally printed in French, and the European style can be seen in the massive amount of panels per page. There is not a single page with less than six panels on it, but the pacing of the issue is extremely fluid, making for a fun read in a new fantasy setting.
What will Okko remind you of? Let me throw five fictional titles at you. All you have to do is replace a word in the title, revealing a real movie or show that influenced this comic. Ready? Here we go!
1. The Magnificent Three (or Four, depending on your opinion)
2. Three (or Four) Samurai
3. Pirates of the South Pacific
4. Children of the Sana (This title is the pilot of a certain popular SciFi/Showtime show).
5. Okko, the Last Airbender
Okay, now pass your answers up to the front... Just kidding! Anyway, if you guessed these titles, then you have a very good idea of the plot for the first mini-series of Okko, as well as where the series is heading. This is the story of Okko, his two partners (the masked warrior Noburo and the drunk monk Noshin), and a young fisherman (Tikku) whose sister has been kidnapped by pirates and taken to a sadistic emperor. Of course, Okko agrees to help the boy find his sister and defeat the bad guys, which is why we have this comic in the first place. Granted, the idea of the banraku (basically a powerful exoskeleton) is a nice addition to the story, as well as the water spirit Noshin speaks to, but the remainder of the storyline lacked originality, which is required for any type of new fantasy enterprise in this day and age. Iím sure some will argue that there is no other way to present the story and structure of this strange land other than by a grand quest. But, as Iíve always believed, imitation is good for flattery, but not for creating a viable work of art, as Hub is doing with this series. I can forgive the stiff dialogue at times due to the rigors of translation. Also, I believe the issue flows incredibly well for the amount of visual and textual detail, a feat that proves Hub possesses keen comic book narrative skills. However, the story Iím left with is something Iíve seen done five million times (as have most of the people reading this review), not to mention that none of the main characters possess any kind of likeable trait to latch on to. My only hope is that the mystery behind the abduction of Tikkuís sister yields a jaw-dropping revelation (I know it has something to do with her baby).
So, why am I giving this issue a high rating? Itís all in the artwork, silly! Hubís style is very cinematic in appearance (which makes sense due to the many obvious influences), and every panel possesses a tension and drama that could easily be a storyboard if it wasnít so gorgeously drawn and colored. Like I mentioned earlier, there are tons of panels on every page, but the images filter easily from border to border, which is a treat for the eyes. Check out the battle between the pirates and Noburo to see what I mean, as he leaps from a burning boat toward the retreating ship, only to be shot out of the sky by archers. Itís wonderful kinetic energy that Hub contains on this page as well as others. Facial emotions are very appropriate throughout the issue, and the Asian landscape is presented with all the lushness that medieval imagery should possess. The artwork is definitely worth the price of admission, resembling other ASP titles I have read.
Regardless of any gripes I may have about Okko, Archaia is batting 1.000 with titles that are entertaining and beautiful. I have not yet come away from one of their comics with a completely negative opinion. They choose their creators and titles with care, and it shows. Okko is a wonderful addition to their library, though I hope the story picks up some personal steam and leaves its many influential crutches in the dust.
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