Reaver starts really strong. Like, really strong. There’s a strong sense of personality and style right away, between the brief worldbuilding narration and the clean, grim, yet fantastical art. Right away, this feels like something that we may have seen before, but still feels fresh and enjoyable. There’s a sense of a world greater than what we’re seeing, which comes to an abrupt halt when we meet the Reaver for the first time. In just a few pages, this book gives its title character a presence and impact that makes both him and the greater story striking and memorable. All of this really ends up just serving as exposition, though, as the story really starts a bit later.
The actual story of this book is basically a fantasy Suicide Squad riff. A cowardly soldier, a cannibal serial killer, a child killer, a giant berserker, and a conniving mystic all walk into a bar… this isn’t the start of a joke, it’s how we’re introduced to our team and their dynamics. Each one of the characters has distinctive personality traits, but the reasons they were jailed aren’t always the most clear, and there could be a lot more done to flesh them out beyond just individual personalities. The stakes for the story are explained in a roundabout way, but it ends up feeling like a legitimate threat — the enemy force is using their mass prison to farm sacrifices for a black magic ritual to see the future. The mission is to destroy this facility, but with plausible deniability for all the prisoners involved. The deniability comes in the form of a poison — all of the prisoners have been intoxicated, and the only thing keeping them alive is a cure provided to them daily as long as they continue to follow orders. It basically is just dark fantasy Suicide Squad, but it’s a setup that works really well.
Unfortunately, beyond the setup, the book begins to fall flat. The antics and steps of the mission that the characters go through feel poorly defined — they discuss having a plan, but very rarely do they explain the plan in a way that makes sense, which makes all the times that the plan goes wrong lose their impact. Everything begins to meld together, too – the action becomes forgettable, the various plot threads become far too tangled, and by the end I felt almost no reaction to the big twist at the end. It was something that honestly should have been really cool, but everything around it just ended up muddling the impact behind it.
Isaacs’ art is a consistent highlight of the book, at the very least. Between her designs for the various characters, the aesthetic of the world at large, and the strong grasp of sequential storytelling she brings to the book, there isn’t a page in this series that doesn’t look great. The violence is gory and grotesque, the characters are expressive and have wildly varied body language, and everything is really expressive. Alex Guimarães’ colors are also a major part of why this book looks so good — they’re bright and vivid when they need to be, but maintain a grimier, dark tone to establish the kind of fantasy this world is. It’s really fantastic.
I wish Reaver‘s story was better than it was — its premise and art both deserve a stronger execution than they got.