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Chronographer #1 – Review

CHRONOGRAPHER #1

By: Erica J. Helfin (story), Edson Alves, Fabio Pio, Carlos Paul (art)

The Story: This is one feeling of déjà vu you can live without.

The Review: You have to admire the indie creators—and by that, I don’t mean the big names experimenting and stretching their legs on established publishers like Vertigo, Image, or Dark Horse.  I’m talking about the folks trying to hone their craft on the far fringes of the comics world, beyond IDW, Archie, Valiant, Dynamite, or Aspen.  It takes guts to put yourself out there without a major publisher covering your back, hoping someone will catch on to your style.

So on the one hand, I give a lot of credit to Helfin for making it as far as to an actual product; most people give up and go back to clerking at an accounting firm or whatever monotonous job they wanted to escape from.  On the other hand, it’s a sign of Helfin’s inexperience (and lack of rigorous market/editorial scrutiny) that she starts off her project with a rather pontificating little speech:

“There is divinity in the earth.  Divinity.  Brought to us by the grace of God.  Undone by the machinations of man.  Divinity slips through our precious grasp…as the Ouroboros devours its tail.”

Helfin continues in this vein for nearly the entire issue.  Being rather mopey and melancholy, it won’t strike the average reader as being a particularly fun or engaging read, which is already a big obstacle for this series’ success.  But a bigger problem is that it bears no personality you can get attached to, and no particular point of view that you can invest in.  Helfin’s narration rarely comments on the present action, but rather rambles above it, a textual out-of-body experience that creates a similar distance between you and what’s going on in the page.

The stagnant tone and pace of only gets occasionally broken by unprovoked violence, which comes across almost as a welcome relief.  Clearly, there’s a more esoteric story at work here, as a dock worker attacks a cleaning woman for seemingly no reason while delivering a high-minded, ambiguous monologue: “There is always pain in the quest for truth, Grace.  You know that, yes?  You slip closer to the truths you seek…  And yet—you continue to deny your own existence.  You should not be here.”

It doesn’t take you long to catch on to Helfin’s game, only until the issue’s second chapter, despite her efforts to maintain a sense of vagary about what’s going on.  It’s pretty obvious to any experienced comic book reader though that there is someone slipping through time, inhabiting bodies along the way, and someone else, doing the same in pursuit, trying to hurt this “Olivia” each time they catch up to each other.  Once you understand the pattern, between the somewhat pretentious narration and the aimless action, the story takes on a rather dulling effect.

Alves, Pio, and Paul all have distinct styles, with Alves being the sketchiest, Pio the most grounded, and Paul the cartoonist, but the individual quality of all three artists gets dampened by the issue’s lack of color.  All in all, Paul probably has the most potential for breaking into the biz, with a detailed and dynamic style that recalls Jamal Igle.  For that reason, I’m not sure it was very wise to save Paul for last; anyone who jumps on board might feel an urge to slip right back off when they see Alves’ rough, unpolished lines to start.

Conclusion: The intentions are good, but the execution is heavy-handed, trying a little too hard to emphasize its own seriousness and never really indicating there’s a fresh story at stake here.  I have little interest in continuing on, and I doubt many people will feel much different.

Grade: C+

- Minhquan Nguyen

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