Debris is the latest book from already up and come writer Kurtis Wiebe, of Green Wake and Grim Leaper fame. Based on that pedigree the title surely summarizes the books tragic take on the way in which we let our pasts haunt us, refers to the real people that we leave behind after we die, some similarly sad story. Right? Or of course it could simply be in reference to the scrap metal materials that make up the seventy-odd foot tall mecha-monsters that populate this anime inspired action romp full of swords, sorcery and yeah, you heard me seventy-odd foot tall mecha-monsters. You know, tomato tomato.
It would then be fair to say that this is something of a departure for Wiebe, a step into the unknown, even with credits like the fairly fairy tale-esque Peter Panzerfaust to his name. It’s understandable then that he does not set out on this epic journey alone, roping in Green Wake artist and collaborator Riley Rossmo for the ride. There have been many comparisons made to Final Fantasy but aside from some stylistic choices ( and the Chocoboo variants) the storytelling here doesn’t actually mirror that of the games; for one it’s more genuine, sensical and fun. What the pair create here shows all of the class and creativity of that unjustly cancelled book but otherwise doesn’t resemble it in the slightest.
A simple glance at the art makes this instantly clear: the sketchy, stuck and ambiguous style of Green is gone, replaced instead by crisp and free-feeling lines that make panels appear to be vista’s, each with a massive, magical view. And oh the color. Given its name Green had an ironically insipid palette, but Debris more than makes up for that, letting Rossmo loose with all those excess pastels he must have built up back then when he was only using the black.
Of course none of that should be taken as a criticism of his past work, Wake was a very dark and ambiguous book and thus his art paired with the plot perfectly, as it also does here. The script here then is similarly straight, simple and stunning: there is a magical world, perhaps once our own, and its inhabitants are faced with full and total destruction; that is unless a special child, a chosen one of sorts, can complete her mythic quest and save them all. So sure, you’ve seen its sort before, but not since the eighties and even then never quite like this.
The world that Wiebe creates here is a weird and very wide one with a vast number of interesting elements; some of these stem from familiar sources – a return to tribalism in the form of elder council government, resource management – while others are entirely new, to me at least – the sense of community, the scale of the creatures and the strong female characters. Unfortunately though I can’t help but feel that the width of the world is at the core of my main criticism.
Wiebe has written Debris as a mini-series, four issues long, and for me this is a problem. He has obviously come up with a very complicated world, a number of complex characters and an epic quest for the latter to take within the former and four issues simply isn’t enough page time to pace all of this out luxuriously. So facts are thrown at you quite quickly during the read, then really aren’t explored in much depth afterwards and our lead leaves her home, upsetting the story status quo before we’re properly acquainted with either.
This is a strange criticism to level at a book; really liking what’s on the page but finding where and how something of a problem. The clearest comparison that I can make is to some of Rossmo’s internal art. There is a sense in some of the later action scenes that Rossmo too felt rather rushed; the jumps taken by characters in the conflict, often literally, are missing a middle piece and thus asks for a little too much audience interpretation, while the occasional white-background panel requires a little too much of their imagination. What he draws in these white panels is as pretty as anything else in the book, but because of this sparse and oversped placement it loses some of its power. So to Wiebe’s script, if we had been able to spend a little more time in this place then the twists and turns taken would have meant more to us.
Essentially what I’m saying is that I want more and whether or not this pace really is a flaw is something that will become clearer when we get more. For now though I think it’s better to focus on what the book did best, namely entertain. Debris is, if nothing else, the kind of big-scale, thrill-ride blockbuster that Hollywood wishes it could make and really, what else could you ask for? Some shoppers may simply shrug off a book thats not setting out to shake their worldview with its serious themes and depressing drama, but those people are missing out; it takes just as much effort to craft such a comic and there is just as much reward in reading one. That the one team could create both is mind-blowing and entirely unfair; though there is a sort of joy, a strange catharsis even, in seeing this pair produce something so shiny after all that dark.