Welcome to The Pull List, a weekly column where we check out a first isssue of a new series and tell you whether or not to follow the comic based only on that. This week I picked up the new, creator-owned mini-series from Archaia, Feathers, intrigued by its premise of a boy/crow street urchin inhabiting a labyrinthine, 19th-century slum.
I’d expected a crime caper story, something pitting the rooftop-traipsing protagonist against urbane gangsters and such, but at its heart, the first issue of Feathers begins a story of haves and have-nots: those privileged to dwell in the pristine White-Walled City, and the desperate ones condemned to the Maze, the derelict sprawl surrounding it. Unfortunately for our protagonist, the black-feathered aven boy, none too subtly named ‘Poe,’ he had the misfortune to be orphaned in the latter. Well, aside from being half-bird and a societal outcast in a city of outcasts.
Amidst growing tensions between the two districts, Poe stalks the eaves of the Maze, longing to help the needy, who struggle to get by with raids on the Walled City’s supplies by day, and are preyed upon by their own poverty-ravished neighbors by night. But there is more than class warfare and back-alley crime at work in the Maze–a red-scarfed stranger also stalks the cobbled streets, luring his prey to their doom with a siren song.
From the premiering issue, writer/illustrator Jorge Corona is after a theme of balance, of light and dark, order and chaos, as represented by the two halves of the vast urban locale. There are undoubtedly greater, archetypal forces at work here; the opening scenes see commentary between two unnnamed forces, each claiming dominion over either the Maze or the Walled City, and Poe seems to be a mixing point of the two, a character born to exist in the dark (the Lobster Johnson goggles protect his eyes from daylight and gas lamps), who must avoid detection from human eyes that might be less than understanding of his appearance, but who, nevertheless, finds himself driven by camaraderie towards his fellow urchins.
The concept is engaging, but the way the plot is executed feels a bit worn: society-shunned orphan, an unlikely meeting with a child of another social order, a literal wall between rich and poor. It would’ve helped a bit to get more into Poe’s head, and also to have more visceral moments contrasting life in the white-walled ‘burbs and the Stanktown that Poe calls home, but instead we’re given the usual characterizations. The rich refer to the poor as vermin, and the poor steal from the rich. That’s about as surface level a description of social strife as you can spin, and as a result, this first issue of Feathers doesn’t exert quite as much pull on the reader as it’d like to by the final page.
The visuals were a mixed bag for me; let me summarize by saying I love all the non-human aspects of Corona’s art. The exaggerated, angular style of the characters feels a bit standard, with frowns and sharp eyebrows delineating the bad guys, round eyes and toothy smiles for the good guys, but the rendering of the urban spaces is often lovely, brimming with overgrown life. The Maze looks like newly-industrial England, with every panel packed with steeples, chimneys, aqueducts, and at least one trail of grey smoke in the sky, all clamoring for breathing space. Corona clearly has fun communicating the architecture with detail and intricacy, all while avoiding clutter. The Walled City contrastedly takes on the style of Moorish palace-towns, full of domed spires, terraces, and villas. And Poe himself is quite snazzily designed with a mixture of simplicity and mystery in mind–he’s little more than a dark silhouette with grey wings beneath the arms, bright, orange-lensed goggles, and an impish stature, all elegantly put together for a likable hero.
Feathers didn’t make the impression on me that I felt it could have, given some more convincing stakes and non-conventional exposition, but I can see people holding onto the series on the visual style and the promise of a grandiose tale about to unfold.