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Review: The Only Living Boy #1

A comic review article by: David Fairbanks

The Only Living Boy is the latest comic from the creative team of David Gallaher and Steve Ellis (Box 13, Hulk: Winter Guard), following Erik Farrell, a 12-year-old who runs away from home and wakes up in a fantastical world where he is the only boy alive.

After waking into this strange new world, Erik is quickly hounded by indigenous beasts who presumably have him on their mind for dinner, only to be aided by a somewhat mysterious warrior. Despite her aid, the two of them are captured and held in cells where they learn that pretty much every prisoner exists to either be experimented on or fight for everyone else's amusement.

I don't know if you could find more clichés for the magic-infused future that Gallaher and Ellis have created, but I'm honestly pretty amazed they managed to fit this many into the first issue. 

In addition to the previous four, there's also a cracked and broken moon, a New York landmark as the only recognizable building among overgrown ruins, the mysterious warrior cares mostly about fighting and is willing to kill Erik for sport, and one of their fellow prisoners is a winged princess whose armor seems pretty inadequate, as it leaves her chest wide open.

Of course, we've seen a dragon curled around the Chrysler Building, so I'm sure there are more to come, and I wouldn't have a problem with it if they served the story somehow. Genre fiction has the ability to acknowledge what came before it as something of a social contract with the reader; by knowing the tropes of the genre, it gives the creator the ability to play into or subvert them and use the strengths of the genre to enhance their work. The first comic to come to mind is Adam Warren's Empowered, but it's far from the only example.

Rather than play around with or subvert the genre, Gallaher and Ellis play it straight, to their detriment; where stereotypes could be embraced, cranking the intensity off the scale, they instead are used to prop up a mediocre story.  Only Living Boy wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the cliché I haven't mentioned yet: it is chock-full of unnecessary narration. Look below and tell me how many of those thought captions couldn't be explained later, through a more natural sounding conversation between characters rather than narration.

For bonus points, let me know if you can tell how you're supposed to read those bottom eight panels without thinking about it. What's worse about this, though, is that Ellis, whose art style is a bit of a fusion between Bryan Lee O'Malley and Sean Murphy, is pretty talented at conveying emotion through his characters. I don't need a caption telling me what a character is thinking if I can see it on their face or in their body language, but it would be nice not to have to remove myself from the experience of reading a comic in order to figure out what order I read the panels in. Both of these are necessary for quality visual storytelling.

People talk about Jack Kirby's narration (and some of his dialogue) quite a bit, that it sounds corny and overly epic, but that feels much more like turning the dial up to eleven, encouraging you to accept a story like Kamandi at face value.

I suppose I had to get to that elephant in the room sometime. The similarities Only Living Boy has to Kamandi are numerous, but it seems like for each aspect of the Last Boy on Earth type of story OLB wants to tell, Kamandi is right there to do it better (and 40 years earlier). 

The Only Living Boy isn't so much a bad comic as a painfully adequate one. As the first chapter of what appears to be a much longer story, it could get better, but it's got a long way to go before I consider taking a look at the series again.

 


 

 

David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.

Mostly self-indulgent ramblings can be found at @bairfanx and untilsomethingbreaks.blogspot.com.

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