I find myself simultaneously irritated and a little relieved that Blue Water Comics has posted Ret Romanne #1 to read for free at WOWIO. I'm irritated because I spent four bucks on this thing just a few weeks ago. But I'm also relieved of the onerous task of trying to explain what the book is about, since in several ways it defies explanation. Anyone interested in a visually interesting but otherwise meandering comic about a scarred outcast bumming around the back streets of a floating city, click over and take a look for yourself.
I think we can all agree that the book looks pretty cool. Alan Brooks has some ginchy digital rendering software and he knows how to use it. Most of the pleasure I derived from this comic came from taking in the dazzling blend of CGI artwork and photography (at least, I think that's what we're looking at). Brooks' views of the city and its streets, as well as the interior of the aircar are especially fine; the argument could be made that the more surreal pages of Ret's visions are too busy and a little over the top. But there isn't a single panel in this comic you could call boring.
The actual story, meanwhile, has such a poor structure and lousy pacing that it sinks the entire enterprise. Brooks spends so much time setting the scene, delving into backstory, and going off on waking dream tangents that nothing much actually happens in the here and now. The entire issue can be summed up in one sentence: "Ret gets a distressing phone call." Hey, maybe next issue he'll actually do something about it!
The issue starts, puzzlingly, with an introduction by three robot narrators, who seem to be breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the reader. They also seem to be disembodied heads, and I'm not sure what purpose they serve other than for Brooks to say, "Look what cool robot heads I can design!" The whole narration angle seems to be dropped a few pages in, anyway.
Rather than jump right into the story, we are led by the hand through the whole setup: "Here's the city where this takes place." "Here's what happened to Ret to make him like this." In my mind, he should have just started with the story. Details about the city can be dropped in during the action. A flashback relating Ret's accident can be shown later during a quiet moment. Possibly Brooks should stick to the art side of things and a writer could be brought in to write a more readable story.
Who is Ret Romanne and what does he do? Is he a detective/enforcer type, or just a whackjob who wanders the streets of U.N.Topia? Does he wear some kind of armor or have cybernetic parts? Is his chest cavity on fire or is that just an artistic flourish? Why does he wear American and UK flags on his head? And what's with the visions- does he have psychic powers? Is he have a connection to the realm of dreams? Is he half-remembering stuff he has already experienced but has forgotten? I realize at least some of this is supposed to be a mystery that will unfold over time, but come on. Tell us something about this guy whose travails we are supposed to be invested in. He is the title character, yet all we know about him so far is he crashed and burned and now he likes to dress up like Darkman and build robots.
Based solely on the rad visuals, I would give Ret Romanne #1 a 6/10. But if Alan Brooks wants solely to show off his mad graphics skills maybe he would be better served coming out with a nice big coffee table art book. As the premiere issue of a comic series, this doesn't get the job done. I wasn't convinced at all to shell out for another issue. On the other hand, if Blue Water keeps posting future issues online, I may check in simply to find out if Brooks ever gets on with it already.