Praise of Neotopia
story and art by Rod Espinosa
It's hard to talk about Neotopia in
terms of typical fanboy
touchpoints. It swings close to classic manga territory, but
the scarcity of cute nymphettes and the equal emphasis on
character, technology, and setting pull it away again into
a genre of its own, calling to mind Moebius and Herge (Tintin)
as readily as Miyazaki and Tezuka.
other words, it's solid and unapologetic fantasy, short on
gratuitous sex and violence but also clever metafictional
conceits (Fables, Sandman) and angsty psychological
depth (Books of Magic).
does it have?
drawn and detailed settings, cute characters who are innocent
without being saccharine and capable without being implausible,
and a rich world and story composed of familiar elements but
still original in the particulars -- is this enough for you?
get me wrong -- sex, violence, cleverness and angst have sold
me on many a comic (among other things), but it's not faint
praise to call this book a palate-cleanser, a breath of fresh
air that's still plenty weighty enough to stand on its own.
some sense to talk about these two issues together, not just
because I somehow missed 2.2 and had to track it down before
I could write about 2.3, but because the one is a cliffhanger
leading into the second.
by developing the relationship between Princess Nalyn and
Sergeant Philios, first through a confrontation over Philios'
affection for old technology. Heavy industry of the kind we
would recognize apparently all but destroyed this world in
the middle-distant past, and experimentation with these ancient
machines is frowned upon if not actually forbidden.
of the present time is designed for thought control and eliminates
pollution, hence the subtitle of the series ("The Perilous
Winds of Athanon"), which refers to the environment in
which our heroes pilot their half-sailing-ship-half-airship.
The friction between Philios and Nalyn
is mild, however, giving way to the romantic fantasies each
has about the other but shies away from revealing. Then, disaster
strikes, as the ship approaches a storm, nearly escaping when
they are attacked and sent down into the blackness.
a proper cliffhanger, though, without any clear resolution,
so I'm not spoiling much by saying we don't get one in 2.3.
At the start of the issue the ship is damaged but still upright,
and while repairs commence, our heroes set out for a nearby
island to explore. A friendly native conveys them to the island's
capital city, where they learn of the island's millenium-long
rejection of machines, and of the source of the attack that
brought down the ship.
with a possible new romantic entanglement for the Princess,
we also encounter a couple of elements that verge on the too-cute;
one of the supporting cast of this book is a telepathic dolphin
who uses a four-legged mechanical suit to move about on land,
and the other is, ahem, a brownie. The former reveals that
political intrigue, predictably, makes this island a somewhat
more dangerous place than it would seem at first glance, while
the latter...this is embarrassing, um...learns magic with
a wood dryad he meets.
I SWEAR it's good, pixies notwithstanding.
come with various inside-back-cover supplementary material,
like maps, cultural exposition, and journals by Philios. In
another book, I might complain that this material properly
belongs woven into the story and not dumped on us at the end,
but it's a credit to the soundness of Espinosa's world that
this extra information doesn't come across as useless or pretentious.
these first few issues feels like cracking the first few chapters
of an epic, generous, uplifting fantasy novel with 500-plus
pages left to go. I don't know about you, but it's been a
long time since I've found a good one of those.