Air, Vol. 1: Letters from Lost Countries
by G. Willow Wilson, M.K. Perker
Paperback, 144 pages
Published March 24th 2009 by Vertigo (first published March 10th 2009)
ISBN: 140122153X (ISBN13: 9781401221539)
I was crazy about this book before I even opened the cover. It shows a scene that calls to my mind James Dickey's poem "Falling," which is on my list of top five favorite poems EVER (yes, I have a list). The image gives me the same breathless feeling I get when I ramble through the poem, and that giddiness made this purchase a no-brainer.
Then, the first page makes a Satanic Verses reference. Which is one of my favorite books of all time. Double love.
From the second page, though, I fell out of love a little, at least for a while. Pushing so quickly into the action without establishing the characters on some identifiable level for the reader is difficult. I realize the medium implies a "nonstop action" flavor, but my favorite comics have been those that manage to use the action to establish the character in some sly way, and I didn't think that Wilson was terribly adept at that for at least the first third of this volume (which would be a couple full comics, had I been reading it in the serial form--would I have had the patience to continue with it if the first couple issues had been so disappointing?). And Blythe's "dysfunction" doesn't count as character establishment. In fact, her disorder just made me think she was stupid for taking the job as a stewardess to begin with.
The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic in a lot of places, to the point that it took me out of the story a few times, especially in Blythe's first encounter with the Estian Front (not too much of a spoiler, as this happens in the first couple pages). The "Two-Face" style bad guy is wooden...as in balsa. I'm not sure that he's going to hold up as anything interesting in the future.
The art is...I think another reviewer said that it's very eighties. For the most part, I'd agree with that. The artist has a great eye for composition, but the art itself feels a little rushed and cheap, like he or she was trying to get panels cranked out without much care for the actual artistic integrity overall.
But, hang in there, passengers. There's some turbulence, but, like any pilot (as in the show, not the captain of an aircraft), it manages to hang together by the end of the volume. The magical realism in the world Wilson establishes and the way it weaved its way into the plot dazzled me, and the layers that were established saved the narrative by the end.
The story also raises some really nice questions about the nature of reality and how that reality, or lack thereof, affects our own identities. As some of you know, I'm a bit of a sucker for good philosophical questions being raised in my comics, so this has earned a pass from me. I still don't give too much of a damn about Blythe or her mysterious friend (...what's his name again...?), but the story itself is at least compelling enough for me to want to snag the next volume and give it another chance.
So, the jury's still out. Maybe Volume 2 will manage to breathe a little more life into the characters and keep me hooked for Volume 3. We'll see.