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Review time! with City in the Desert volume 1: The Monster Problem

It’s the first of three volumes! But should you get the next two, much less this one? That’s what I’m here for!

City in the Desert is the first graphic novel by Moro Rogers (it’s lettered by Deron Bennett), and it’s always cool to see new creators working in comics. This is published by Archaia and costs $25. Yes, it’s a lot, but Archaia always has really nice production values, which adds some value to the books. Luckily, they usually publish good stuff, too!

It’s kind of hard to really review City in the Desert, because it’s incomplete. What’s here is pretty good, but it’s also frustrating, because just when the story is kicking into high gear … it ends. Darn it! So let’s break it down: Rogers begins with a creation myth, in which God (“Iriaze”) creates monsters to remind man that he shouldn’t get uppity (as man is wont to do). Then we move to Kevala, the city in the desert, where lives Irro, a monster hunter, and his assistant, Hari, who looks human but is obviously not (she has a long tail, for instance) and who isn’t all that welcome in the city. A religious group arrives in Kevala and explains to the king that they can solve the monster problem once and for all by capping the “spirit fountain” in the center of town. Irro thinks this is a bad idea, but he’s really the only one, and so they do so. Then weird, sinister things start happening. It’s not too much of a spoiler to mention that the religious group really isn’t all that nice, and their leader has special plans for Kevala, but because this is volume 1, we don’t know what they are yet. Irro points out that nobody really knows what the spirit fountain is, and he also begins trying to figure out what relationship the city has with its monsters – they seem more closely related than anyone knows. So there are all kinds of mysteries going on in the book.

Rogers does create an interesting world in this comic. The creation myth is close enough to the Bible without ripping it off, and the world of Kevala is more complex than we think at first glance – there are robots and guns, even though it looks like a simple “magical” world where there’s no modern technology. Irro is a fascinating character, too. He has a connection to the king that allows him to speak his mind, he’s perfectly happy hunting monsters (he’s the only happy person in Kevala, one character mentions), and while he’s not cowardly, he’s also not foolish, as we learn at the end of the volume. His relationship with Hari is complicated, but Rogers does a nice job not drawing too much attention to it. Hari is obviously not human, but Irro cares about her more than he cares about the people of the city, because he’s able to see past her external features … to a degree, and that’s why Irro is interesting – we don’t really know what’s going on with him and Hari, but presumably Rogers will continue to explore it. Darga, the guru of the cult, is less interesting because he comes off as a stereotypical villain in this volume, but his plan to remove the monsters and make the citizens of Kevala is intriguing, so his lack of personality isn’t too big a lack. Rogers does a good job making the city seem like a real place – she adds some stuff about the economy of the place, for instance, that makes a lot of sense – and it helps make the book better.

Rogers’ art is fairly sketchy, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad at all. Her style fits the rough, blasted landscape in which Kevala sits, and it’s not like she can’t do details – her monsters are very nicely done. She keeps things “simple,” though, suggesting a world that is hard, bleak, and hot. Kevala looks like a typical desert city, with adobe and clay houses, but Rogers does a nice job contrasting the king’s opulent palace with the rest of the town. She has a very good sense of page layout and, like a lot of writers who are also artists, she knows when to let her art speak for itself. When we’re introduced to Irro and Hari, we get seven wordless pages that show them tracking a monster, and Rogers does a wonderful job with both their personalities and the odd world they inhabit. The book is mostly in brown tones, which helps create the sense of the desert, but Rogers uses some colors to good effect. For artwork that doesn’t look too detailed, the characters are very good at expressing themselves wordlessly, and it’s nice to see Hari’s changes in temperament, from her childlike innocence early in the book to her fear as she realizes that the townspeople really don’t like her (she knew it already, but it begins to be more important as the volume moves along). Like her writing, Rogers takes her time with the art to create a very intriguing world.

I’d Recommend City in the Desert even though it’s not complete. It’s a fascinating beginning to the story, and while the “bad guy” isn’t really all that interesting yet, Rogers has done a lot of good work in this volume to make the world and the characters work, and so the plot, while important, doesn’t matter too much yet. Of course, I hope that Rogers can pull off the mysteries that she sets up in this volume, but so far, the potential of this comic is intriguing. I’m looking forward to the next volume.

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