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Meridian: Flying Solo

When Crossgen first appeared on the comics scene a few years ago, I gave it a shot. I read the first couple issues of Scion, Meridian, Mystic, and I even grabbed and issue of Sigil.

I'm sorry to say that none of the titles really struck a chord with me. And yet I have the utmost respect for Crossgen Comics. Mark Alessi, CEO of Crossgen (or director or some king-like honorific), is bringing fresh ideas into the comic industry and helping to create a more stable market for the medium we all love.

The latest collection of Meridian demonstrates Alessi's creativity in marketing. This new trade paperback collection of the first seven issues is published under the "Traveler's Edition" heading. The size of the book has been cut by about a third, with the pages shrunk proportionally, and it's being offered for $9.95.

What surprises me the most about this new publishing practice is that no one has thought of it before in reference to comics. Books have been doing this for years. Under normal circumstances, books are published first as a hardcover for about $25; then they get released as a trade paperback for between $12 and $16. And then comes the mass-market paperback, for a whopping $6.99.

If the consumer is willing to wait, they can get the same story dirt-cheap (granted, it may not fit as snugly on the bookshelf, but who uses bookshelves? The Pile System has always worked well for me).

When it comes to comics, releasing two different bindings of the same book is nothing new in the graphic novel/trade paperback business, but it's usually offered as hard and soft covered, making you shell out an extra $10 for compressed cardboard and a dust jacket. Releasing Meridian first as a regular sized trade and then as a Traveler's Edition is a stroke of genius: we get 7 issues of comics for $10. Who doesn't like the sound of that deal?

Of course, in order for you to want to experience the savings, you have to like the premise of the comic. Meridian is strict fantasy. Set on a world where the ground is barren and caustic gasses corrode away any attempts at ground civilizations, the inhabitants of this world have made their homes in the skies on giant floating cities. Meridian is an air-shipbuilding town and home to the book's protagonist, Sephie. Her father Turos is the Minister of Meridian, and brother to Ilahn, the Minister of Cadador.

When some otherworldly beings (the same beings I assume give the "sigil" to the other heroes of the Crossgen universe) bestow upon Ilahn and Turos great powers, Turos mysteriously falls dead and unwittingly passes his power to his daughter. Ilahn uses the death of his brother as an opportunity to put into motion a plan to take over Meridian, using his newfound powers and the military of Cadador to add the wealthy colony to his own holdings.

Sephie soon realizes her uncle's treachery. With the aid of her own powers and sky-sailing know-how, she manages to escape him and try desperately to return home to rule as Minister of Meridian.

The story is simple and solid, and Barbara Kesel writes some very good dialogue and better than good action sequences. The only problem with it is the one that I've heard most associated with Crossgen: that it moves too slowly.

It does move somewhat slowly, and maybe Crossgen is addressing this problem by extending the traditional trade collection from six issues to seven, but it's still hard to stay glued to the page. It's kind of puzzling: in the first issue it takes one night for Ilahn's plans to come to fruition, and yet it takes Sephie in the vicinity of three to figure out her uncle is a functionally bad man.

The plot doesn't really advance so much as stroll along. One thing I do like is that Kesel writes the characters as not being "in the know" when it comes to their powers. Both Sephie and Ilahn take time to learn what exactly their powers can do, and even then it isn't fully explained. It's a good hook for the writer to pull the reader back in on.

One thing that stands out rather positively is the art on the book. I really, really like Joshua Middleton's penciling style. His people are very emotive and he draws figures extremely well and faintly cartoony (but not like a cartoon book, don't worry).

He also works well with the concept of the book, creating beautiful and ornate structures and airships, not to mention how beautiful he draws Sephie, especially in wind effects.

Another chunk of praise should be broken off for the colorist Michael Atiyeh. The colors are amazing in Meridian: rich and vibrant sunsets and sky-scapes, well toned skin colors and textures of fabrics, and his deft touch with light shadows adds more dimension to the characters as well. The story may drag, but the art is solid stuff.

I grabbed Meridian for two reasons: 1) to see if the book was something I would like, and 2) to feel the heaviness of my wallet as I saved mucho dinero and not been forced to part with my George Washingtons (at least not too many of them).

It reads more like a book meant for the young adult or teenager, but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. If you find yourself wandering around your comic chop (salivating as I do every week), looking for something to drop a $10 bill on, try it. Personally, I'm waiting for books like Negation and The Path to get the Traveler's treatment, but I'll keep Meridian in mind

Meridian Traveler: Flying Solo

Robert Sparling

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