The Exiles are headed to the year 1760 in the fourth installment of writer Saladin Ahmed’s Exiles. After narrowly escaping an atomic explosion, Blink and her team awake to find themselves in an 18th-century version of the Caribbean. At first, the beautiful beaches and pristine waters seem like a good place to rest up after the wild events in Exiles #3. But soon enough, this dimension’s sinister underbelly reveals itself in the form of slavery. With a little help from a pirate version of Ben Grimm, the Exiles get the opportunity to fight for what’s right. But, as always, the larger threat of the Time-Eater continues to be a constant threat — not only to the Exiles but to every dimension ever created.
It’s this balance between the individual realities’ adventures (like destroying slave trade ships) and the larger plot of the Time-Eater that makes Exiles one of the more entertaining series currently on the Marvel market. Within each issue, and particularly within Exiles #4, Ahmed tells two stories. One is usually a little more lighthearted, but can still have very real consequences (like the atomic bomb in Exiles #3). The other, much more serious story, tells about the destruction of the universe.
So often, comic writers try to tell multiple stories within a single arc but very rarely do they succeed. Too many plot points make series’ feel muddled and confusing. Somehow, Ahmed defies the odds and is able to weave two very different stories into Exiles #4 without making the issue convoluted. I think he’s able to do this partly because Exiles is a fantastical series about a time-traveling team of misfits. Exiles can hold multiple stories because, when readers open Exiles #4, they’re anticipating a wild ride. If the events seem illogical or absurd, it’s because they’re supposed to, not because of poor writing.
Artist Javier Rodriguez facilitates the creation of this wild world with his illustrations. While certainly realistic and expertly done, Rodriguez’s work carries an almost vintage feel that may remind readers of forgotten comic books from childhood. Bold outlines, endearing facial expressions, and flat colors harken back to the classic days of illustration — back when comics were about constant action and adventure. Still, Exiles #4 deals with a lot of grave topics, including slavery, death, and loss. It is not a comic for children.
And yet, I think the creative team of Exiles #4 is trying to use vintage, kid-geared comics to make sense of this insane reality-hopping experience. The illustrations remind readers that the world of the Exiles, like the world of vintage comics, is uncanny, fantastic, and astonishing. There is still a very real element to Exiles, thanks to some of the topics Ahmed includes, but the art and crazy situations make those real elements a little more accessible for readers who otherwise might not know much about things like slavery and atomic bombs.
The only consequence of telling multiple stories in Exiles #4 is the lack of depth. Having the Exiles fight slavery in a 1760 version of the Caribbean is so creative and unique that it deserves an entire miniseries — not just one issue. Ahmed does his best, but there’s so much that still can be explored in that reality. Yet, the idea that each issue of Exiles brings readers to a different, unknown reality is part of what makes it so appealing. Although Exiles #4 struggles to offer readers a completely constructed world, the series is more about variation than depth.
Ahmed and Rodriguez’s Exiles #4 is a rarity in current comic books. It tells not one but two entertaining stories and offers tons of fantastical elements that shouldn’t work but (thanks to Rodriguez’s fantastic artwork) do. This issue, and Exiles in general, taps into what comics used to be all about: wild, unparalleled adventures. Even though the stories told are frequently grave, their fantastic settings make those serious topics easier to wield. For some readers, who enjoy gritty, realistic comics, this may be frustrating. But for those who like stories that take readers a million miles away, Exiles #4 is for you.