The Drowners #1-4
By Nabiel Kanan
Published by New Flame Publishing, $2.95 USD each

Those of us who remember discovering Nabiel Kanan’s mini-series Exit in the pages of the Negative Burn anthology will no doubt recall the feeling of excitement at what we believed was the first work by a future star in the comics field. His thin lined art style had an energy and uniqueness that was instantly recognizable, and his ability to tell stories that both intrigued and captured a somber emotional tone was impressive for a newcomer. That promise was fulfilled when Kanan released his first graphic novel, Lost Girl, from NBM in 1999. Lost Girl, a sort of offbeat coming of age tale about two young girls, further demonstrated Kanan’s gift for creating interesting characters with depth and insight. In 2001, when he followed up with the underrated graphic novel, The Birthday Riots, a fascinating tale of political demise, it seemed that Kanan had really found his stride. So my expectations for his new self-published story, The Drowners, Kanan’s first new work in almost three years, were extremely high.

Well, I’ll start with the good news. Kanan’s art has matured during his absence. The harsh angles and excessive crosshatching of Lost Girl are gone, replaced by a heavier brushstroke, and matted with gray shading in virtually every panel. Kanan mixes in several splash pages to good effect, and his opening shot in issue 4 of the Thames is especially well done. Kanan is also a master of visual foreshadowing, a technique that he has used particularly well in his other graphic novels, and each issue of this mini-series uses unexplained close-ups whose significance in the greater narrative are revealed later. Overall the art feels simpler, yet more expressive, demonstrating Kanan’s continued growth as an artist.

Unfortunately The Drowners reads like the script to an afternoon soap opera. The meandering plot revolves around an unsolved murder. James Quinn, a self-made media billionaire (fashioned, no doubt, after Sir Richard Branson), is haunted by a mysterious woman with a gun, a phantom from his past. Who this woman is, and what her connection is to the story form the backbone of this contrived tale.

The story could have worked, but the characters were too generic and flat to develop any emotional connection with. Too often their actions slipped into worn-out clichés. The jealous psychiatrist whose sole motivation is revenge felt tired and heavy-handed. Hayley, the young woman whose troubles with drugs force her to go into hiding, is far too easily duped into a deranged revenge/murder scheme, hatched by her maniacally unethical psychotherapist. The drug dealer Shane was also annoyingly one-dimensional in his pursuit of Hayley. James Quinn suffers the pain of losing his media empire with the stoicism of a statue, and his wife, perhaps the most sadistic of the story’s characters, displays no emotion at all over a series of trysts and murders she takes part in. Even the unnamed hero who ultimately saves James Quinn’s life is little more than an undeveloped bit player who happens to be in the right place at the right time.

Some uncharacteristically clunky dialogue also hampers the story. Shane at one point refers to his obligatory pack of thugs as “maggot A, maggot B and maggot C.” And the doctor’s big reveal in the final installment relies primarily on the clumsy recapping of past events.

Overall, The Drowners is an ugly story of jealousy, hatred and violence. It isn’t horrible, but the story felt like an uninspired retelling of a plot we’ve seen thousands of times. Visually Kanan’s evolving style is the highlight and worth the cost if you’re a fan. Kanan is an intelligent writer and gifted artist, whose past merits guarantee that I will continue to support his projects, but The Drowners is the weakest in his back list. Grade: 3/5

-- Marc Sobel

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