Protector #1

Protector #1
Written by Daniel M. Benson and Simon Roy
Art by Artyom Trakhanov
Colors by Jason Wordie
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Published by Image Comics

Protector #1 is a very strong debut issue, of a far-future set, post societal collapse science fiction story. There’s lots of mystery to unlock and what feels like the beginnings of an interesting and well-realized world. And the whole story is brought to life with really wonderfully detailed, grimy, and weird visuals. 

Protector is set in 3241 A.D., and the story begins in the slave mines of Shikka-Go, where the Hudsoni tribe has seized control from their rivals, the Yanqui. Mari, a Yanqui slave girl flees from her captors and makes her way underground to the ruins of an ancient building, leading her captors on an extended chase, and inadvertently activates an ancient “demon”, which is a relic of a more technologically advanced time. Later we learn that this demon represents a significant threat to the entities known as Devas, who speak to the humans through a human intermediary that they possess (like Ancient Greek gods speaking through an Oracle). The mission of the Hudsoni is clear. The demon represents a threat to the status quo and the Hudsoni must destroy it, and if the Hudsoni will not do it, the Devas will do it themselves, no matter who or what else is destroyed in the process.

I really enjoy stories set in the distant future. There’s so much room to speculate on where things will go with humanity. I enjoy plenty of near-future stories as well, but if you go thousands of years into the future you can just let your imagination run wild. And what I particularly enjoy about those sorts of stories is trying to figure out, within the world of that story, how humanity got from Point A (the present day) to Point B (the setting of the story). Now, there’s a lot of post-apocalyptic stories out there (which suits the way that it feels like things are going, unfortunately), but I like a story that is far enough in the future that things can change significantly, or just get really weird.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Protector, but really you have to start with the art. This story is illustrated by the fantastic Artyom Trakhanov, with vibrant colors from the talented Jason Wordie. Trakhanov has a unique, distinctive visual style that I’ve enjoyed for many years. I first became aware of his work very early in my time writing for Panel Patter, when he drew the amazing Undertow (written by Steve Orlando) which is set in a alternate Earth where undersea Atlanteans have evolved into an advanced civilization whereas land-dwelling humans are in a primitive, pre-industrial state. It’s an excellent book, and Trakhanov’s art struck me as looking like nothing else I’d seen to that point. Trakhanov’s style is rough and brings a deliberate ugliness to the portrayal of people. That’s not meant as anything other than a compliment, as it suits the story perfectly. It also establishes something of a distance between us and these people in the story. 

Their world is new and different to us, and it’s also been more than a thousand years, and there doesn’t seem to be all of the amenities of our current civilization such as electricity, plumbing, and modern medical and dental care. So, if the people look like they’ve been through a lot and don’t get to go to the Spa, then that perfectly suits the story. But Trakhanov is a highly skilled portrayer of human emotion. His exaggerated style is perfect for bringing to life the heightened emotions of an action-packed story such as Protector, and so the facial and body acting of all of the characters in the story is top notch. Again, Trakhanov’s style is very distinctive and recognizable, but once comparison that comes to mind and is appropriate here is the work of James Stokoe. Stokoe has a similarly grimy and very detailed style, with great, weird character design; Stokoe also does the main cover for issue 1 of Protector and clearly I wasn’t the only person to think he’d be a perfect choice and nice complement to Trakhanov and Wordie’s work.

But this isn’t just a story about characters, this is the story of an entire post-industrial world, and Trakhanov brings that world to rich life as well. The art places us in the ruins of a former industrial civilization, and Trakhanov brings those ruined cityscapes and tunnels to vivid life. There’s great detail, and the world of ruins and strange artifacts feels immersive and believable. And Trakhanov isn’t just a skilled artist of characters and worlds, he’s also a terrific sequential storyteller which is frankly the most important thing I want from an artist. Does one panel flow into another? Can I follow the action? Does this all make sense as a story? Thankfully for Trakhanov, the answer is yes on all counts. His action is dynamic but is also easy to follow. The geography of the story and the locations of the characters all make sense. And Trakhanov also uses some innovative panel design, such as a large panel depicting an underground location, and several smaller circular panels within the panel which show the travel of Mari within this area. It has an effect like you’re seeing her at several different places while looking through a telescope, and is very effective storytelling. The whole issue is full of nice touches like that.

Something else that makes the issue feel noteworthy is the distinctive, bright coloring from Jason Wordie. I feel like a lot of post-collapse/post-apocalyptic stories have a dark, gray, washed-out feel to them. Not to say it's not an appropriate color choice given the subject matter. But giving your book a grim, gray overtone of color also just makes the reader approach this as a bleak story, and it feels sort of predictable. What's great in Protector is that Wordie has not made obvious color choices. This is not your standard grim, washed-out, post-apocalyptic world. Rather, the color choices in Protector are bright and vibrant, which I found really additive to the reading experience. The colors are not overly rendered, and are somewhere between "realistic" and "atmopsheric". But the colors feel flat (i.e., not overly rendered) with solid colors, and that makes each individual person or object on the page stand out. 

There are also a number of different times when people or objects have a pixellated effect, and this works well to convey texture or shading. There's a lot of rich earth tones, and so it gives North America almost a desert-like quality, but definitely conveys a sense of heat. The coloring also very clearly distinguishes between those things that are old and those that are new. The ruins of old society has a more faded quality, which makes the people pop even more. Particularly in the pale, almost white sky color during the day. It's surprisingly bright, and feels like a strong, non-obvious choice.

Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou also provides strong lettering in this book. He uses a font that feels like print handwriting, which I found very readable and felt like it suited the story. He makes good use of both bold and italics to convey differing levels of emphasis in speech.
Protector immediately drops the reader into a new world, populated with humans and with terms that are both familiar but also feel like the natural evolution of those terms over a long time, such as “Shikka-Go”, “Hudsoni”, and “Yanqui”. I just really enjoy stuff like that. It all works here as, even though we don’t exactly know the everything about the status quo and how we got from here to there, there are some clues in the story, as well as the remnants of former American society. The society has reverted to a preindustrial state, reminiscent of pre-European North America. Society is divided up in tribes, they travel in canoes and speak of Longhouses. This feels familiar (from other post-apocalyptic or post-collapse stories) but I found it all very enjoyable and interesting. The “demons” and Devas are interesting touches to the story. Are the Devas some sort of A.I.? Are they controlled by advanced humans? We don’t know any of that yet, but I’m sure we’ll learn more as the story goes along.  

Protector is a fun journey into a weird new world. This is a strong, entertaining debut and I'm looking forward to more.