Friday, January 6, 2012

The Finder Library Vol. 2

by Carla Speed McNeil

Finder has been my favourite comic book discovery of 2011.  Carla Speed McNeil's series has been around for years, but was completely under my radar until Dark Horse began collecting the series in the Finder Library series, serializing new adventures of main character Jaeger in their new Dark Horse Presents monthly anthology comic, and published the new graphic novel Voice.

Finder has been described as 'aboriginal science fiction', and I suppose that description works as well as any other.  The series is mostly set in the great domed city of Anvard, where millions of people live in the cramped, multi-layered, complicated society run by clans and strict social stratification that can even dictate how much artificial sunlight is pumped into a neighbourhood.  The world of Anvard is deliciously complex, and McNeil revels in constructing stories that help to expose new facets of the society, while also provide an emotional wallop.

This second volume of the Finder Library collects sixteen issues of the comic, plus whatever additional material McNeil chose to toss in (this volume does not feel as formally structured as the first).  It contains four stories: 'Dream Sequence', 'Mystery Date', 'The Rescuers', and 'Five Crazy Women', each very different in tone and content.

'Dream Sequence' is about Magri White, a prodigy who has constructed and maintains a complete virtual reality in his own mind.  Thousands of people jack into his reality, called Elsewhere, and enjoy walking around in his memories in the thousands of structures he has created.  Since childhood, Magri had been under the care of a corporation that has made billions off of Elsewhere.  The problem is that now a monster is loose in that world, and visitors are getting injured in reality.  This story is very surrealistic, and completely brilliant.  I found myself getting very wrapped up in Magri's environment, and McNeil does an amazing job of showing his frustration and decent into near-madness.

'Mystery Date' is a stark contrast to this story.  It stars Vary, a young girl who grew up as a form of ritualized temple prostitute in her home village, and who has come to Anvar for an education.  She ends up getting involved in a strange triangle with an emotionally distant professor who wears complex prosthetic legs, and his colleague, a Laeske.  Laeske are bird-lizard creatures about the size of horses, who are often as intelligent as a person.  This is a bizarre story, a romantic comedy in a completely bizarre setting, and it works very well.

'The Rescuers' is the first story in this book to feature Jaeger in a prominent role.  He is living with a group of Ascians, his adopted people, in a large dome within the dome of Anvard, that is owned by the Baron Manavelin.  The Ascians have been allowed to camp on the Baron's property, and work as servants in his estate.  One night, during an elaborate party, the Baron's infant child is kidnapped.  What follows is a form of noir detective story, as Jaeger begins to assist the rather useless local police (despite the Baron's wealth, his home is in a relatively backwards part of Anvard, and so only sub-clan police are employed there).  This was a particularly effective look into McNeil's world, and it wore the influence of the Lindbergh kidnapping on its sleeve.

The final story, 'Five Crazy Women' focuses on Jaeger and the relationships he has with the women of Anvard.  Being a drifter, and moving in and out of the city, Jaeger has few possessions and no home.  Whenever he turns up in the city for a while, he usually calls up one of his many women.  He has some difficulty finding anyone when this story opens, and so he has to find some new 'friends' to take him in, finding only some real nutcases.  This is a fun story, and it reveals more about Jaeger and his way of living.

Taken as a whole, Finder is incredible.  McNeil provides detailed notes in the back (forty pages of notes for 600 pages of comics), which is something I'm always a sucker for.  The depth in her work is pretty much unmatched in comics today - the only comparison I can think of is Neil Gaiman's Sandman for complexity and magnetic appeal.  I suppose an easier comparison would be to Frank Herbert's Dune, or perhaps Lord of the Rings, if it wasn't so boring.  I really loved immersing myself in McNeil's world, and am thankful that she is continuing to publish Jaeger's stories in DHP; I just hope that another long-form story like Voice will be coming our way soon.

As a sidebar to this, I would love to see McNeil write (and draw) Wolverine at Marvel.  Jaeger and Logan are very similar, living according to complicated codes and usually being the most noble savages in the room.  It would be a very interesting take on the character, and I think she would excel at it.

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