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ARK is a 140 page graphic novel published by Arcana Comics. Yes, 140 pages. You won’t be reading this all during your coffee break. But you may find it hard to put down.
Humans and meta-humans have lived on a spaceship for thirteen years in search of a planet to colonize. But what happens when all communications from Earth are cut off? The reason for their mission is questioned, the peaceful coexistence between the humans and meta-humans is threatened, and there is murder.
The story crafted by Peter Dabbene is by far the most powerful aspect of ARK. It weaves together various genres like science-fiction, romance and mystery expertly. The story itself has layers to it. Dabbene also brings up the issue of race relations by having meta-humans and humans on the same ship and having a couple composed of a meta-human and a human which was a great romance that I would like to see developed further in future issues. The only romance that didn’t really work was the one at the very end which felt shoehorned in. But this whole race-relations issue between meta-humans and humans never felt like it was knocking the reader over the head with the obvious message of “treating everyone equally.”
There are also a couple of deaths in this graphic novel. Each one is pretty shocking, very dramatic and, unlike some comic books which knock-off handfuls of characters purely for shock value, each of these character’s deaths is felt. The only problem with this is with each character’s death I found myself actually upset because I would no longer be able to see that character and I could see them doing a lot more in the future of the story. Sometimes they felt unnecessary, especially the first one, but they do amp up the feel of the graphic novel and the tension which builds slowly until it crescendos towards the end.
One discrepancy you might have with the story is how long it is. Towards the end a message is revealed to the team that, while interesting, goes on for several paragraphs and can be treacherous to get through. If you aren’t prepared to read something that can feel like a novel rather than a “graphic” novel.
There are fifty people on the ship and we meet a lot of them with more than a handful being developed by Dabbene along the way. As a result, there’s little chance you’ll remember everyone’s names but there are a lot of great characters here. Two of my favorites are who we see in the opening of this comic, Iris and Darien. Both have distinctive personalities and I love their sisterly relationship with each other. During the opening we also meet an interesting meta-human monkey named Gerry. After these characters and the higher-ups like the Captain, his daughter Harmony and Commander Diaz, the names of characters tend to get a bit fuzzy. I had to figure out what an electrical characters name was who was also very interesting to watch (it was Lee, by the way, and it really doesn’t help when it’s basic like that). However, even if you can’t remember names, these characters will leave impressions on you in one way or another. But looking back, while their personalities and romantic interests are clear, we don’t know much about any of their backgrounds and it would be great to see these further developed in future books, but the volume of characters in this book make it seem like a daunting task.
I respect Dabbene for not falling back on crude humor. Some skin is shown, but nothing too distasteful. Also, there’s basically no cursing. I know this isn’t a big deal for most people but admire that ARK can make me laugh without having to use lewd jokes which is what a lot of comedy has become today. These moments aren’t frequent because ARK isn’t a comedy, but the comedic moments Dabbene manages to slip into his story are still really good if not all laugh-out-loud worthy.
The artwork was my least favorite part of this graphic novel. Sometimes Ryan Bayliss’s artwork looks off-putting with awkwardly drawn characters. But there are some beautiful moments, like a very heated exchange between Iris and her boyfriend (which is tastefully covered up). Also, while they can be awkwardly drawn, I liked the design of the meta-humans. Each one is very unique from the other. None of them look like palette swaps of the other. Unfortunately, some of the human characters do. In one or two instances I actually confused different human characters with each other because they looked so similar. The matching uniforms don’t help.
One other “bad” quality to the art is that some of the expressions are laughable. However, they’re so bad they can make you laugh out loud. Even if it does take you out of the scene, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Another problem is how some of the boxes are laid out. On some pages, there are two boxes on the left that take up less space than one box on the right. As a result, I kept thinking I had to read the first panel on the left, then the one under that, then go to the right box. Instead, you’re supposed to read the left panel, then the right, then the left. This happens so many times you get used to it, but it is still disconcerting.
Peter Dabbene has more plans for ARK and Arcana Comics has greenlit three graphic novels for the ARK series. I’m eager to see what direction ARK is going to take considering the little tidbits that are dropped towards the end of the issue that foreshadow some interesting new dynamics that will be coming into play. But for now, I’m more than satisfied with this fantastic science-fiction epic. And if you love a good science-fiction romance which could be a novel, this is for you. It’s more than worth the $5 on comiXology (or wait until it comes out in print for $19.95).
You can also check out the ARK Facebook page.