Review by C.J. Bunce
The magical, multimedia, computer-generated art of Archeologists of Shadows is at once both like something you’ve never seen before yet strangely familiar with bits and pieces of so many different influences. The characters seem to have evolved from the green planet in Avatar and the villains from the Iowa State Patrol borg police of Star Trek 2009. The compositions have influences in the creepy worlds of both artist Dave McKean and at the same time the otherworldly spaces of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. The fantasy evokes painted high fantasy pulp cover art and the mystery and old religions and myths of The Dark Crystal. The colors and lights throughout the book are reminiscent of the work of artist Lee Bermejo. The industrial architecture conjures the oppressive cityscapes of Fritz Lang, and the surreal buildings of Antoni Gaudi.
As to the story, we’re introduced to a far off place, maybe Earth’s own future, the world of Terminator if the Connors have failed to save humanity, where humans have degraded to the point where they have only few organic parts. The protagonists, Alix and Baltimo, are indeed borgs, with elaborate, realistically visualized cybernetics with a definite steampunk vibe. They are on the brink of a crossroads like the dull citizens of George Lucas’s THX 1138–readying for the final steps of full mechanization. Like the cast of Waiting for Godot, they wait for something to happen, maybe godlike intervention, until a stranger offers assistance. Like Neo in The Matrix, do you act or not act, and which action bears the most risk, the doing or not doing?
The characters become fugitives and pawns in someone else’s game, creating questions of destiny versus free will. Alix and Baltimo do not look like they are in a video game, but the plot has similarities to the original Tron film and the remake and animated TV series, all about a voyage of discovery out of bondage to some type of freedom. This also conjures the plight of the Runners in Logan’s Run, and the search for the Replicants in Blade Runner. And at the end, Alix and Baltimo find themselves part of not a game but a prophesy, at the beginning of a story where they will crossover into an unknown fantasy world where a dark figure awaits them.
Archeologists of Shadows is a blend of fantasy, steampunk, sci-fi and horror. Steampunk comes through in the book’s very design. Some imagery blends science fiction with the work of John William Waterhouse. Each comic book panel is bordered with metal pipes, evoking an aged industrialism, lending a foundation of something great and old. The beings are all of some type of future place, and the militant ruling class are terrifying and cold.
Credit goes in equal parts to writer Lara Fuentes and artist Patricio Clarey for excellent, quality world building. The elaborate detail of the backgrounds and robots does not feel trivial. The story sets itself up for ongoing series and exploration. Even the parchment-inspired word balloons evoke a loud and booming voice from on high–something you could see as part of a film adaptation by del Toro someday.
Archeologists of Shadows is published by independent publishing house Septagon Studios. The digital Issue #1, “Resistance,” includes bios of the creators written by them, as well as many pieces of source work used in the development of the book. Numerous sketches are featured, and even photos of real-world objects and three-dimensional art are shown that were used as inspiration for the final artwork. The digital comic also includes a preview of Issue #2, Archeologists of Shadows, Vol. 2: Once A Nightmare. Never before have I seen so much work go into the development of a single comic book issue. The years of development are clear, and the final work reflects this intense commitment by the creators. Merging the beautiful and the disturbing, Archeologists of Shadows, Issue #1, is a pretty incredible work.
Check out aoscomic.com for more information on obtaining copies of Archeologists of Shadows and the newly-released sequel, Archeologists of Shadows, Vol. 2: Once A Nightmare both available for 99 cents at Amazon.com.