(w) Mark C. Frankel (a) Kathrin Ayer (c) Chunlin Zhao
One of the most rewarding experiences of attending a comic convention is strolling through Artist Alley and talking with the truly independent, unknown creators. These are people that don’t have the backing of the Big Two, a mid-sized publisher like BOOM! Or IDW, or even a Zenescope. What they do have is passion, drive, and usually a completely self-published floppy or graphic novel. While we all hope to return to conventions at some point this year, I’ve taken to digging through my own collection to dig up some indie comics from past years’ cons. Which brings us to The Cycle, a one-shot from upstart publisher Wayward Raven. Written by Mark C. Frankel, who is also the publisher’s CEO, The Cycle dabbles with familiar concepts of science-fiction and mythology for an original story.
The major premises of The Cycle is that the universe is ending, and that life is cyclical. End of the universe scenarios aren’t uncommon for the comics medium, with some heavy hitters like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars to pull from. In fact, it seems that every year brings a major, cataclysmic event from comics publishers big and small. However, The Cycle exists in a world seemingly devoid of the capes and spandex crowd that typically accompanies cosmic cataclysms in favor of a pair of romantically-linked scientists.
Frankel and his art team make quick work of establishing Marutuk and Tiama’s relationship. Though the dialogue is clucky and a bit too expository, it’s effective at setting up the narrative and establishing the stakes. Unfortunately, roughly half the page count is spent establishing the backstory of this issue, leaving little for the meat of the story. A completely original one-shot of standard issue length is a tricky feat to pull off, and The Cycle could have greatly benefited from more pages or a “recap page” to set the stage. Instead, the inside cover basically reprints the solicitation copy.
Once the issue moves past the introductory material, the pacing becomes a roller-coaster experience. The technical, sci-fi elements are rushed only for other material to drag on. A sex sequence following the consumption of some “forbidden fruit” evokes the Bibilical tale of Adam and Eve, but it goes on for several pages and adds nothing of value. Compounding matters is the art by Kathrin Ayer. While rough and flashing potential, her visuals lack the refinement seen in works like Sunstone or Sex Criminals. However, when Frankel’s script refocuses on scientific and abstract concepts, Ayer shines. It’d be great to see what she is able to accomplish with a tighter script that plays to her strengths.
The Cycle is not the most original comic, but it does enough with some familiar concepts to make for an entertaining enough read during quarantine. The ideas of death and rebirth on a cosmic scale is enough to keep readers thinking beyond the final page, while also comparing it to the execution in familiar works like Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? or The Matrix. While flawed, the independence of the creators allow them to take certain risks that Wednesday warrior won’t find prominently displayed on the shelves of their local comic shop.