I was just strolling along, minding my own business and wondering where my wife had gotten to, when Michael S. Bracco's Novo (Alterna Comics) reached across a craft show aisle and grabbed me by the eyes. Before I knew what happened, I was halfway through Volume One, with 10 fewer dollars in my pocket, and anxiously wondering when the next book would be out. Fortunately, it wasn't a long wait.
Novo, the titular character of this graphic series, is the last of his kind and the first of his kind, and he is searching for his place in the universe. Two races, the Aquans and the Terans, fought a great war which has wiped them both out. Novo, somehow, is a child of both races; the only child left. Even though the first volume is subtitled "The Birth of Novo," most of his personal history is left out. Instead the story of the great war's start is told twice, once from each perspective. The tales are so clearly biased, however, that, if anything, I think they leave the reader more confused. That's a brilliant piece of story telling, I must say.
How often has that happened after a fight? You get the details from one person, and find out that it was all the other person's fault. You've no reason not to believe them, and so that story becomes fact until you hear the other side. The funny thing is, the other side sounds a lot like the first story, save that the good guys are now the bad guys and vice versa. About halfway through Volume One, this is Novo's dilemma. The first story came from his mother, the second from a book owned by his father. His confused sense of betrayal is palpable and something the reader can easily sympathize with because it is, unfortunately, a common occurrence. That familiarity seems to be a defining characteristic of Bracco's writing.
Throughout both books so far, Novo reminds me of nothing so much as a regular American kid. He burps, he complains, he yells at his mother when she's being evasive. Early on, when she is trying to explain his significance, telling him "You are a promise kept, a promise fulfilled too late. As you search your past, you will find your way." Rather than accept this with due consideration and respond in a similar tone, he says "What does that even mean? Mama, you're making me craz[y!]" At first this disjuncture in tone between Novo and his surroundings left me a little dissatisfied. I had trouble reconciling Novo's teenage angst with the epic nature of his hinted at importance. When I took a step back from the story, though, I began to appreciate Novo's uniqueness. Too often, 'chosen-one' characters accept their fate rather blithely and lose a good deal of depth in the process (see under Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace). Novo's petulance gives him somewhere to go, something to overcome through trial, and leaves plenty of story to be told. I must be frank, however, and admit that these revelations were not what first attracted me to Bracco's work.
I wasn't kidding when I said Novo grabbed me by the eyes. The artistry in the books is unlike anything I've ever seen; it is positively mesmerizing. When I first picked up Volume One, I don't know that I actually processed much of the story, I was so caught up in the drawing. Done in a black and white which is heavy on the contrast and light on the shading, it strikes me as reminiscent of H.R. Giger. Bracco, however, uses fewer lines and is more truly organic. Whereas Giger overwhelms the eye with intricacy, the work in Novo is captivating in its starkness. The characters are alien in form, but carry decidedly human expressions. In 'Volume Two: The Pride,' the artistry is much more polished and dynamic. There's a depth and precision in the second book which escapes my ability to define. Suffice it to say, however, that there is a noticeably positive progression in the young series which makes me eager for it to continue. In the design of The Enemy, especially, I think that Bracco hit upon something truly fantastic in Volume Two.
There's a lot I love about Novo. I love that the black and white nature of the art contrasts with the shades of gray in Novo's past. I love that Novo seems to have some great cosmic significance, but gets truly and convincingly annoyed at times. Most of all, though, I love being able to watch the evolution of a talented artist from my hometown. Baltimore isn't often put on the map for this sort of thing, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Novo become popular beyond the bounds of Charm City.
Novo Volume One: The Birth of Novo was released earlier this year and Volume Two: The Pride hits shelves this week. Check out the website for ordering info and free preview pages of The Pride.