By: Sean E. Williams (story), Stephen Sadowski (pencils), Andrew Pepoy (inks), Andrew Dalhouse (colors)

The Story: In a country with few men, even a one-handed fellow starts looking pretty good.

The Review: It’s easy to see that the relationship between plot and character is one of mutual dependence, where if one falters, the other must compensate, and each may help with the development of the other.  A powerful plot can challenge weak characters to reveal greater dimensions to themselves, while strong characters can invigorate an otherwise insubstantial plot.  When both essential sides of a story fail, however, then the story can’t help collapsing on itself.

After four whole issues, it’s become pretty clear that Williams doesn’t have much of a plot to offer here.  If he does, he must be saving it all for one heck of a finale because what he’s given us so far has been completely inadequate.  The Dhole have been the only active antagonists thus far, and there’s no sign they’re anything more than smarter-than-average carnivores.  While we know another mastermind is at work, we learn nothing about him or his intentions here.  Kind of makes it hard to generate the necessary enthusiasm in such stake-less circumstances.

It doesn’t help when Williams just disposes of other potential sources of conflict.  You have to find it bizarre that after only just now giving a name (Buldeo) to the burly man making such ruckus within Charming’s camp, Williams almost immediately kills him off afterward in the most anticlimactic way possible.  So on top of being pointlessly nasty (we never get any specifics about the family tension between Buldeo and Nathoo), cowardly, and lazy, Buldeo’s something of an idiot as well.  I suppose with all those qualities, wandering drunkenly into the woods and getting devoured by Dhole is the most he deserves, though it makes for lame reading.

Poor development of minor characters is a common defect of many comics, however.  Less forgivable is when the protagonists are also shallow and flat.  For the first half of the issue, we get no progress on Charming and Nalayani whatsoever, either as individuals or as a couple.  They don’t even help to advance the plot in any way, even after discovering a journal in English written by someone with initials “B.K.”*

When we finally get some kind of insight into their characters, it’s thin and almost devoid of any foundation.  Nalayani’s reminiscences about her love life prior to the mass male abandonment of her homeland goes pretty much nowhere, and fails to make any kind of statement about who she is.  On the subject of her attraction to an old man in her village, she says “it started out as pity, but it grew into something…else,” without providing further specifics.  She’s not being coy, mind you; she simply doesn’t know: “I don’t know how, or why, but I think he might have been my one true love.”

If anything, we get even less to work with where Charming is concerned.  First of all, it’s a pretty poor display on his part when, afflicted with relatively minor symptoms of illness (true, a disintegrated hand is nothing to sneeze at, but compared to the total breakdown of his guard last issue…), he whimpers that he’s “repulsive” and crawls into a mineshaft to wait for death.  Even setting this aside, his sudden declaration of love for Nalayani feels unconvincing and forced, offering no explanation for why he thinks this affection is somehow different from what he felt during his past three marriages.  Don’t get me wrong; I applaud when a swinger straightens out—but only for the right reasons.  In this case, I prefer Charming to remain a letch.

Sadowski’s art is better than fine, full-bodied and well-proportioned, with a solid amount of detail, but it’s not particularly remarkable or innovative in any respect.  In fact, there’s a huge amount of wasted space in his art, like a three-panel page of Nalayani merely crawling into mineshafts.  Of course, Sadowski may be simply responding to the death of material he has to work with from the script.

Conclusion: A thin story gets even more anorexic as Williams barely makes efforts to do some kind of groundwork for the minor developments he manages to deliver.

Grade: D+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Honestly, I can’t be bothered enough to speculate myself, but I’ll entertain anyone’s theories as to who this B.K. is.  I have proven completely useless in the guessing of people’s initials, as seen in Batman and Robin #19.