By Dave Gibbons
Published by Vertigo
I had been looking forward to The Originals, Dave Gibbons' graphic novel for quite some time. The preview book distributed to stores and available at the San Diego Comic-Con knocked my socks off. The promise of a sci-fi skew on the mod movement, something I'm too young to be familiar with but fascinated by nonetheless, was fresh and captivating. Unfortunately, The Originals is anything but.
Lel and Bok are two teens who long to be members of the hip mod gang, the Originals, and eventually become accepted. Part of the initiation involves roughing up the rival gang, the Dirt, who are a hoverbike riding squad of rebels without causes. As Lel moves deeper and deeper into the gang and into increasingly illegal activities, he finds love with a young girl who is part of the scene.
Dave Gibbons set this rather generic tale of the 3 G's (gangs, girls, and growing up!) in a science fiction-influenced England in order to recreate the sense of wonder he felt about the mod scene and its trappings in the reader. The initial splash page, in which the Originals make their first appearance did indeed fill me with awe. Arriving on their hovering bikes wearing bucket helmets and high collared "Mantle" trench coats did indeed seem exciting and otherworldly to me. The scooter designs quickly grow familiar and goofy, and, most regrettably, the spectacular fashions turn out to be little more than a plot device, as do many of the characters.
The rivalry between the Originals and the Dirt continues to escalate, and a casualty of the gangwar hits Lel close to home. It doesn't really matter, though, because the characters are types; the young tough looking to make it big, the loyal friend, the cool leader, and the best girl. The characters don't do much other than advance the plot, and the plot isn't even fresh or exciting. It's the sort of stock plot that a creator uses to hang more interesting ideas or emotions on to. There is no sense of personal revelation or insight in this story, and the story fails without it. This is what it feels like to read The Originals: character does this, then this, and then this happens, and then the character does this, and then this, and so on.
Although it doesn't work as a story, The Originals is sill marvelously drawn by Gibbons, one of the great comic book artists of the past twenty years. It is certainly what I expected it would be, not straying too far from his established style, but certainly more refined and with the addition of a new shading trick. The thick, open lines leave a lot of room for the rich gray tones which take the place of color in the book. The gray tones are used well and give the book a very appealing and distinct look, but often look pixely.
The designs for the scooters and the other sci-fi apparati, (of which there are very few) are sharp but uninspired, and from the perspective of someone who really doesn't know any better, it all looks very "mod." There are some interesting storytelling devices used as well. The panels are swimming in a black abyss, which sometimes swallows the page, and it's all very cinematic. If only the story and characters had transcended their exploitation film progenitors, giving us real people to care about instead of cliché's there only to titilate and amuse us.
-- Jef Harmatz
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