Writing comics is hard. Hell, writing in general is hard. So you have to give props to anybody bold enough to write a post-apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi comic series and actually get a first issue out. Because God knows introducing a whole new world is a lot of heavy-lifting. While Protector is an admirable effort, it sinks under the weight of its task.
To make a long story short, Protector takes place in a tech-less 3241 AD. Humanity has been thrown back to darker ages where barbarism and technological mysticism reign supreme.
We open with two leaders of the Hudsoni tribe, Bai and Juang, who realize their slave girl Mari is missing. Pursued, Mari falls into an underground ruin where she awakens some long-lost NATO mech. Elsewhere, a faction of Hudsoni leaders are given guidance by the godlike Devas, whom they worship.
In terms of pacing, Protector is rough stuff. We open with a more grounded view of this world and get what I assume is this story’s inciting incident. But then we’re given protracted political jargon from a flurry of new characters where the scale enlarges significantly. It’s as if writers Simon Roy and Daniel Bensen want to show us all their cards at once, inadvertently overloading and confusing us.
To be honest, I’m not even sure who the protagonist is. I assume it’s Mari because she’s a downtrodden slave…but she hardly says a word of dialogue. For all I know, the protagonist will be the NATO mech she awakens. Yes, the worldbuilding is firmly established with #1, but the character development is severely lacking.
Speaking of which, the world of Protector isn’t as unique as I wanted it to be. There already exists stories with this general premise, like The Shannara Chronicles, and Protector’s take on modern barbarism has scant inspiration (the Devas are the most intriguing element). Most worldbuilding is as uninspired as the city names, like Shikka-Go. Oh, what on Earth could that be a stand-in for?
What initially piqued my interest in this series was the art by Artyom Trakhanov. And in many ways, he didn’t disappoint. His thick linework and well-rendered cartooning would fit snugly beside Chris Samnee. Desert landscapes dotted with ruins reminded me of post-apocalyptic cinema ranging from El Topo to Mad Max: Fury Road.
Yet, the storytelling is too clunky to really immerse in Trakhanov’s pictures. Whether it’s a fault with the writing, art, or both is impossible to determine without asking the creative team. Regardless, the problems circle back to pacing and character.
Take, for instance, the scene where Mari runs away. If a slave is running from her cruel masters, we should feel the desperation and bravery dripping from the pages. We should slam into the action. But for some reason, we start with this long-winded intro to her two slaveowners, only to then show Mari running away, but by introducing her feet first. What is this, a Tarantino movie? Then we’re given a wide where she’s a tiny figure dwarfed by surrounding rubble. Only by the fourth panel do we get an adequate shot of her face. But even then, it’s underwhelming. She doesn’t look truly scared or desperate. If I wasn’t reading the dialogue and just looking at the pictures, I would think she just got lost and is reacting to her friends calling for her.
When Mari falls into the earth, it’s done in panels too small to convey that anything dangerous shas happened. She functions more as a video game avatar who’s invincibly falling about. The art can also be downright confusing, with a host of small panels giving us meaningless physical beats.
Jason Wordie’s colors are serviceable, but they’re fairly standard. Desert scenes are blandly given light blue skies and beige dunes. The latter half, which involves a rainy scene, is colored in blue. ‘Cause, y’know, it’s raining. Things get marginally more interesting when the Devas show up since they’re given an eerie, pale palette. But they disappear too fast for us to really appreciate their alien presence.
Surrounded by tumult, we humans often wonder when it’ll all come crashing down. Especially in America. Touted by many as the greatest nation in the world, we have to wonder when we’ll fall like the Romans, Babylonians, Ottoman Turks, or any number of once seemingly unstoppable superpowers.
Post-apocalyptic stories scratch that itch and say, “Yeah, sh*t will hit the fan, but it’ll be awesome. We’ll ditch all this corporate, political dreariness and get back to the wild, wild west where only the strong survive.” In this grim realm, creators can delve into really fascinating social commentary and unleash the gritty part of their imaginations. So it’s a shame that with such a storied history to the sub-genre, Protector #1 fails to make much of an impact. Characters lack depth, the worldbuilding is derivative, and the art only makes things more confusing.