Julia Walchuk: Oh man, where do I even start for this? There are so many cool things going on. My first favorite thing was the guy who talked in old-timey rhyme for the whole issue. My second favorite thing was the art. The sharp line work paired with the varying panel size and placement creates a bold, beautifully harsh setting for this dystopian epic.
While reading this issue, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the scene in Bone where the citizens of Atheia find safety within the castle walls and all manner of creature and class are crammed together in a small space out of fear and necessity. The Spire also centers around many different species of varying socioeconomic status all forced to live in one area because of what seems to be a plague or some sort of apocalyptic event that has wiped out much of the planet. Unlike the mish-mash of folks living together in Atheia, The Spire is stratified, with the lower classes living on the bottom levels of the massive tower and the richest living at the top.
One thing that really stuck out to me in this comic was the way it built a complete fantasy world to get lost in. I often have trouble getting super into single issues because they just aren’t quite long enough to make you feel like you’re part of the world they’re presenting. With novels I’ll often have a dazed sort of floaty feeling once I put the book down as I try to assimilate back into real life. This happens a lot with graphic novels as well, but it’s a rare thing with single issues. The Spire somehow gave me this same feeling. I finished reading it, looked up, blinked several times, and just thought, “Whoah.”
There’s also a neat thing happening with the dialogue in this book. Utterances that are meant to be quieter or asides are in grey print while most of the the speech is in black print. There is also a lot of hesitation and pausing in the conversations, making it read more like real life. It took a bit to get used to this style, but once I did, I really appreciated how realistic and genuine it made the interactions between characters come across.
Overall, I was super impressed with The Spire and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!
Jamil Scalese: You know what’s weird? I agree with you on a bulk of what you liked, Julia. I definitely enjoyed this first issue bunches, however I felt it a touch overcooked for my taste.
The Spire is a hulking, mishmash of seductive ideas and scary players. It tries at once to be every trope and none at all. The tiered city-state is a place that could house a thousand and one stories and it seems that Si Spurrier is trying to tell all of them at once. Its a huge world that’s begging to be picked apart but the pacing in this premiere really messed with me.
I consider Six-Gun Gorilla an inspired work, a classic in metafiction, so I trust this creative team dearly. I know they have a plan and everything, well most things, will make sense by the end of these eight issues. Still, I was a tad spent by the end of this one, a feeling similar to what you felt Julia, but maybe I wasn’t ready for it. There is a novelistic approach to the world-building, but prose can digress easily. Comics is always tumbling forward, telling the same amount of story with a modicum of the text.
The visuals are overall really, really good. It’s a tad disorienting when Jeff Stokely wobbles in and out of styles, but that’s purposeful I think, a clever way to portray all the different species of humanoids. The varied linework sways gently between crisp and worn to blotchy and cute, it works but needs some tuning to find the right frequency. While I’m hot to luke-warm on the art I’m swooning over the lettering choices. The hems and haws of everyday speech are often gleamed over in comics and those grayed-out words and utterances are an intelligent way to bring a sense of humanity to this story crawling with otherness. You really gotta give it up to Spurrier and Steve Wands if you’re a fan of the medium’s invisible art.
Jason Sacks: I loved the world-building of The Spire, but then I’m a sucker for comics that deliver readers to a fully thought-out world, which give us some hints and force us to keep pace with the writer as the story goes on. Two of the most successful comics of that type are two of the most beloved comics of all time — Bone (as Julia mentions) and of course Saga. In Saga, BKV and Fiona Staples give readers lead characters whom we immediately love, and whose adventures therefore are important to us from the very first page. We’ll follow them around in that puzzling and beautiful universe because it fascinates us, and that provides the hook for readers to hang on and feel the realness behind the complex artifice.
The Spire shows touches of what makes Saga special while blazing a completely different trail. Most striking about this issue is that for all of its complications, for all the beautiful mystery of the Spire and its surroundings, how every note in this issue focuses on character and character-building. We’re left with dozens of questions in this issue, but the most important ones stem from character and from the intrigue of watching these characters bump up against each other. Our lead is thoroughly well-formed and smartly considered, but more than that she surprises us in so many ways. Spurrier does a beautiful job of making us want to read more about her.
I’ll repeat everyone’s praise for Jeff Stokely’s art (along with Andre May’s coloring), which brings this world to a well-considered life. His depth of field in many images is stunning, and he’s a master at giving readers small hints of a larger world in the backgrounds of many panels. This is a master collaboration, and as the series goes on, I’m sure we’ll get even more hints in the art of a deeper world.
The Spire is the best first issue I’ve read since Saga.
Julia: Wow, Jason, that last sentence is very bold! I’ve seen a lot of amazing first issues lately (Descender, Harrow County, UFOlogy, Arcadia, etc.), but The Spire definitely does stand out as a phenomenal start to what is sure to be a fantastic series.
Jamil, I can see where you’re coming from with this issue being packed full of new things, but for me, having grown up reading fantasy and sci-fi my whole life, The Spire expertly captured the excitement of being thrown into a new world and learning as you go. There’s a thrill that goes along with meeting new characters left and right and discovering that you are now part of a big, messy, confusing world that will pull you along with it and promises not to leave you behind. Like walking into Tatooine or Diagon Alley, there is a lot going on and some of it is scary, but all of it leaves you intrigued and flabbergasted and you just can’t get enough.
My friends and I do a thing where we ask people what their ‘bunker book’ would be. The rules of the bunker book are that if you are locked in a bunker (yes, this conversation started after Kimmy Schmidt and Silk had just come out) you are allowed to pick one comic series, either ongoing or complete, that will be your only reading material in said bunker. If it is an ongoing series, someone will bring you the new issue every time it comes out. I am notorious for picking first issues as my bunker book and then changing it the next time I find an exciting new first issue, which drives my friends crazy. That being said, I am very tempted to make The Spire my new bunker book. I might wait a few issues to announce this to my friends though.
It’s true, The Spire is full of opportunities for a plethora of story lines and I think it has the potential to keep us hooked for a long time. Bunker book or not, The Spire is worth paying attention to.
Jamil: I believe my minute displeasure lies in the indecisiveness of the entire aesthetic. Is this a cop procedural? High-fantasy? Stark social commentary? A fairy tale? A horror story? Nothing precludes it from being all those things (yay Comics!) but I’d rather a simpler intro that then grows more ornate. This thing introduced three antagonists at least, not counting the lyrical larcenist , the awesome fungal dude with the fake eyes or the grotesque pixie-bro.
I relent. This comic is awesome. Spurrier has quickly escalated to one of my favorite writers and I’m holding him and Stokely to a terribly high standard. I appreciate the effort to envelop the audience with a strange and vast world. There’s little doubt I’ll be reading this entire series.
Jason: Then my work here is done. Ha!
Julia, we have to play the bunker book game when I see you at SDCC. At first thought, I might choose Sandman for that honor, or maybe Saga, or maybe… hmm… give it a year and my choice might be The Spire.