Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Rich Ellis
Colors by Grace Allison
Letters by Neil Uyetake, Robbie Robbins, and Shawn Lee
Edits by Mariah Heuhner
Cover by Michael WM Kaluta
Collection Edits by Justin Eisinger & Alonzo Simon
Design by Neil Uyetake & Robbie Robbins
Introduction by Bill Willingham
Release Date: September 26, 2012
Cover Price: $24.99
It’s always a safe bet to trust your gut. Way back in February I wrote a lukewarm review of the new Fantasy book from Chris Roberson (Superman, co-publisher of Monkey Brain Comics) Memorial #3. I said, in essence:
What I just read is the middle of a larger story. It was ok, but it’s too early to say if the bigger book will be any good just yet.
I suspected it would deliver, but I’m kind of a coward sometimes. Add to that, for whatever personal reasons Fantasy is not a genre I’m usually drawn to. I have massive respect for your Elf Quests and Conan The Barbarians for their craftsmanship, but for as far back as I can remember it’s never been my bag, y’know?
Memorial, now collected in hardcover, places itself squarely in the emerging Fantasy comic movement called Mythic Fiction (so decrees Fables writer Bill Willingham in the introduction, at least). Heralded by Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and including really cool non-superhero titles like Fables, Castle Waiting or Kurt Busieck’s Arrowsmith, it’s currently a movement more about being inspired from what’s come before and less trying to figure out exactly what Mythic Fiction officially means.
Nonetheless, feeling inquisitive I’ve asked myself what makes these titles stand out and what Mythic Fiction means to me. From wikipedia, under the word Mythology:
In folkloristics, [real word!] a myth is a sacred narrative usually explaining how the world or humankind came to be in its present form…
Sandman explores our dreams, Fables is about the stories we tell. These works are not simply escapist fantasy, they’re also exploring why we are the way we are. While they may not be about the world we see and feel, they are about life as we live it.
To review – Memorial is the story of Em, an amnesiatic young woman who shows up in a Portland hospital (Portland, Oregon, obvs!). A year later her life is beginning to build a sort of normalcy when she notices a door in a building down an alleyway that she’d never seen before. Rather then dismiss it as gentrification in an up and coming city, she boldly goes in to explore the magical shop awaiting her inside and before she knows it, Em’s swept up in a magical, Wizard of Oz-esque odyssey involving famous literary characters, walking statues, independent shadows, and a talking cat sidekick, all on her way to finding answers about her own missing past.
Sounds like it could be interesting, right? But also, not particularly new or fresh. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t qualms I had with the book. Mainly they were small – The hordes of fairy tale characters dressed as Reservoir Dogs garb to signify that they’re the Bad Guys. But some of them were larger – Em comes off as so passive during many long, world building passages that when she finally begins to assert herself into the story it feels out of character. I’ll even dare to say Em doesn’t necessarily come off as compelling until the end (similar, by the way, to many of the issues that I had with the recent John Carter film). And yet, Roberson does manage to win me over somewhere around the halfway point (again, like Carter), I just needed to be patient.
What makes the book shine is that for every familiar trope invoked an exciting storytelling mechanism is introduced. Yes, there’s a plucky sidekick who’s a talking cat – his name is Schrodinger and he comes from the Land of Maybe. Eventually we learn that the fantasy world in Memorial revolves around three kingdoms that have existed since the beginning of time: the lands of Moment, Memory, and Maybe, each ruled by one of three queen sisters. Well, except that it turns out that the queen of Moment is a hoarder, keeping all the people, places, and things that pass through her shores on their way to the land of Memory prisoner, which is devastating the land of Maybe, the home of everything that might exist but doesn’t yet.
After a number of surprise reveals and double crosses, this first volume manages to reveal enough world and character to both ground itself and set up what promises to be an exciting series wherein I have no idea in what direction it’s heading. Moments, Memories, Maybes… what’s Roberson ultimately trying to do with these concepts? Is this a comment on the digital revolution? Post-modernity? Portland hipsters? Or is this just life as he lives it? Anyway, the point is, I’m happy to be able to put my whole heart into recommending Memorial.