The books title ‘Riven’ is a fantastic word with multiple meanings that are easily applicable to its story; in both good ways and bad. A loose definition of it as follows: verb, ‘ to rend or tear violently in two’. The most obvious application is to the comics content – it is a werewolf story, a tale of people torn between two different forms – the next is to its lead character – a girl torn between different sides of her personality – then there are some subtler streams – the violence that occurs is separated from her story, the wolf separate from the host – but the most memorable meaning is that of the comic itself, a literally riven read.
The book begins quite brilliantly with a scene of brutal and effective horror which is a point worth making on its own. Comics can’t usually evoke the same kind of scares in those that read them that films or games can in their own audiences and that is because they don’t control their own pacing, but this book is an exception. I both jumped and shivered at several moments throughout thanks to Bo Hampton’s clever layouts and creepy rendering of the creature and its captured prey. The semi-cartoony style is suitable but rarely salient elsewhere; never damaging the script but never transcending it either. It tells the story and always shows the actions/emotions clearly, which is more than many others can say.
After that scene though the series turns its focus to the less literal side of a lycan’s story. The werewolf elements are treated mostly as a body horror metaphor: it all begins when protagonist Katya has her first bleed, she starts to transform into fearsome fur-covered creature at the same time she starts to grow hair down there. Instead of the expected puberty blues parables though these transformations are used to discuss deviant sexuality: rape, molestation and sex with random strangers. The world in which Riven is set is a very dark one indeed, one in which nearly all the male characters deserve to be on an offender list.
Storywise this may all seem like stock standard stuff but writers Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell give it a nice twist on this level too: Katya has an accident before she can turn and so, in a coma, she instead only see’s the slaughter that occurs, that is until she wakes up five years later. This set-up lends the book a rather unique context; Katya’s loss of childhood is literalized, she is all of a sudden a woman and needs to figure out what to do with that fact. She slowly develops a proficiency for her personal sexuality – figures out how to dress for her figure, how to style her hair to frame her face – but even when she catches up to her peers she is still mostly flailing around, doing some drastic and dirty things without really knowing why, because her body compelled her consciousness.
For the first four or so issues then all of the werewolf sections are more psychological than physical; they too are literally riven, occurring at a distance, and as well as being a nice mystery this allows them to be as brutal and bloody as the writers want without them rendering the rest of the story and its small issues insignificant. Unfortunately then the series takes a turn for the finale: the characters leave their home and country, the wolf becomes a real threat and the book banal and generic action horror. If this is all you want, another tropic werewolf tale, then you will likely be fine with this but because what I liked most about it up until this point was the unique thematic treatise the cliche climax came as a bit of a let down.
The conclusion should be where any piece of writing stamps home both it’s impact and ideas, but because it was so distracted by the admittedly complex and well handled battles this book never had time to do either. I lost Katya in and amongst the chaos and so her internal arc never got the resolution that I wanted, nor did the morals suggested by it. It’s almost like me closing this review with a vague statement instead of a clear summary; unsatisfying, it soils the whole experience.