Review: Lantern City #2

LanternCity_002_A_MainI love a good dystopia. Heck, I’ll settle for a mediocre dystopia, as long as it hits the right beats: an Orwellian government, a brave hero rising up against the status quo, a crack in the system that makes the revolution possible. This makes me the ideal audience for Lantern City, an engaging but derivative ongoing series from BOOM! Studios imprint Archaia whose second issue comes out this week.

In the author’s letter at the back of Lantern City #2 – part of a planned transmedia project with a TV show in development – series creator Trevor Crafts writes about the fun and importance of worldbuilding. It’s clear that he and co-creators Matthew Daley and Bruce Boxleitner have delighted in the details, but they’ve assembled those details from spare parts. So far, it’s telling one of the most familiar dystopian tales: a member of the downtrodden lower caste steals a uniform from a downed police-soldier and seizes the opportunity to bring the Man down from the inside.

The premise might be familiar, but it’s not tired; Lantern City transports our fears of a self-reinforcing police surveillance state to what looks like the decaying remains of a once-beautiful fantasy world. At times, the art borrows knowingly from genre classics, with lovely results. The cityscapes evoke the crammed, neon-lit urban settings of 1980s films like Blade Runner and Brazil, which gives the scenery a cool retro-futurist feel. But while those ’80s cities seemed packed to bursting, Lantern City‘s city sprawls into forever. When Carlos Magno pulls the camera back to show us the larger world, it’s breathtaking.

Other visual decisions aren’t as effective. Sander, the series’ hero, spends most of the second issue in a police uniform that looks like a Storm Trooper suit painted red. In addition to pushing the Star Wars button way too hard – the government that the jack-booted troops serve is called the Empire – it robs us of the ability to read the protagonist’s emotions. Instead, the issue relies on thought-bubble narration to guide us through Sander’s experiences as he uses a stolen suit to attempt to pass for an officer and infiltrate the Empire.

The series so far has left Sander as too much of a blank slate for this to be effective. Part of the problem is that recent film and novel dystopias have filled out their heroes’ quirks and motivations so efficiently and with such nuance that they’ve raised the bar. Lantern City‘s creators might not realize how steeped its audience is in the likes of The Hunger Games and Divergent. Flawed as they might be in other ways, YA novels have revitalized dystopian fiction with a heavy dose of feminism and teen angst. Lantern City‘s Sander, a brooding white dude with a mane of raven hair more expressive than his face, seems shallow and old-fashioned in comparison.

Despite all of this, Lantern City #2 is worth a read, especially if you’re a fan of dystopian adventures. It’s not breaking any new ground – and at times seems unaware of how derivative it is – but it’s fun, and worth getting in on early, before too much backstory piles up.

Writer: Matthew Daley Artist: Carlos Magno
Story: 6.5 Art 7.5 Overall 7.0 Recommendation: Read

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.