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Neotopia, Volume 3
story and art by Rod Espinosa

In Volume 3 of Rod Espinosa's epic Neotopia, the journey of Nalyn and the Mathenian army continues, exploring the continents and discovering new lands and potential allies. These discoveries are a little more schematized and artificial than the ones in Volume 2, but also in some ways more thought-provoking.

The first is Shielliniath, the last refuge of a race of elves. If elves seem a little trite compared to the book's other inhuman races (humanoid bats, cybernetic telepathic dolphins, and a wingless anthropomorphic pterodactyl), think of them as Neotopia's aborigines, most reminiscent of Native American tribes. The elves isolate themselves, hunt with low technology and high sophistication, and harbor deep grudges against and distrust for humans. Espinosa continues to explicate the difficulty of winning loyalty and unity against the backdrop of history, a problem at least as prevalent on our present Earth.

The next few issues concern themselves with the kingdom of Elyssion, split catastrophically into male and female factions. Here Espinosa's names are almost too transparent; "Maledon" suggests both "male domination" and "malice," while "Lesazon" patently breaks down into "lesbian" and "amazon."

The Maledonians are sketchily drawn. Almost pathologically hostile and distrustful, they don't stick around long enough for us to learn much about how they function as a society. They seem to have received religion and regimental military in the cultural divorce, as well as a caste system.

Espinosa mostly uses the Maledonians to define the Lesazonians by difference. The matriarchal half is portrayed with motifs we're all familiar with by now: the vaguely Greco-Roman costumes and architecture, the proscriptions against violence combined with almost godlike ability to deliver the same. All we need are bullet-deflecting bracelets and a truth-eliciting lasso and we're on Paradise Island. Fortunately, Espinosa doesn't try to push the similarities harder than this; instead he gives a pretty convincing origin story for the gender-based splintering, and a deadly, dirty secret that could save or condemn Neotopia utterly.

Throughout the volume Espinosa continues to deploy the strengths that have kept the series an engaging read for the eyes as well as the brain. His palette is exquisitely chosen, depicting bright naturally-lit scenes and gloomy, real darkness with a faithfulness more suggestive of fine painting than comic art. Complex scenes are filled with detail, important revelations about secondary characters hide in corners of full-page scenes, and we stop frequently to drink in the grandeur of a world with the clock turned back to a time of natural beauty. We rarely see Espinosa's charismatic heroes without a host of others beside or behind them, such that it's difficult to forget that true heroism doesn't result from the actions of the few and glorified but from the many and unified. These are themes to which many an epic fantasy pays lip service, but in Neotopia they saturate the art itself.

The story, too, gives the impression of being larger than the pages it's given. Though the pages of silent visuals alternate with passages of wordy dialogue, there's so much to tell that the diary entries and textbook histories rendered in prose at the end of each issue are more required reading than flavor text. Nagging questions are answered (or at least acknowledged) there, background on how single-sex societies function is provided, and technology is explained and explored. It's hard to imagine how these details could have been incorporated into the main story, and their presence helps the impression of a three-dimensional world.

Along with the large-scale struggle, the small-scale struggles continue. Nalyn and Philios experience more moments of affection that test their professional relationship. Marro the elf finds himself torn between loyalty to his Duchess and desire to live among his own people. And the slave insect Philios rescued during Volume 2 here learns to live as a natural creature, perhaps providing a solution to the overwhelming number of Krossian forces.

If there's any criticism to offer of Neotopia, "overwhelming" might be the word. There's so much detail to Espinosa's world, so many factors accumulated along the journey that it can be difficult to keep them straight. Best to trust that their creator will do so, sailing confidently into the battle ignited in Volume 4.


Andrew Simchik


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