A production delay can mean death for a new series, especially one from a smaller publisher. Nevertheless I can think of no more appropriate series to survive such a disappearance through time than Zojaqan.
Tuning decisively to the relationship between Shannon and the strange primitive society that has evolved around her burrows through time, Zojaqan #2 is a vast improvement from the first issue’s already fascinating musings. The addition of other characters for Shannon to play off of is a huge part of that, but Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly are also just writing a clearer and more focused story here.
This issue is really great in its relationship to the series as a whole. Rather than offer a one-and-done story cut off from its brethren or a single chapter of a future collection, Zojaqan #2 sections a portion of plot development into its own narrative, making a complete story that also informs the greater arc of the series. Given the delays, this not only counteracts the natural forgetfulness of readers who may not have picked up an issue since July, but helps the series feel satisfying after a long wait.
One other thing that’s been on my mind of late is intention, specifically a writer’s intention, for a series. Zojaqan’s intention is not completely clear at this early stage, but, at least in this issue, it’s not really trying to be a AAA title. That is in no way a comment on its quality, but on the kind of story it seems to be trying to tell. Though Kelly, Lanzing, Adrian Wassel, and more, would likely love to see this series find mainstream success, its strength partially comes from the degree to which it’s comfortable being a striking example of its breed, rather than aiming for best in show. In keeping somewhat with the Vault ethos, Zojaqan #2 isn’t trying to be the next Walking Dead, but instead brings some of the satisfying appeal of a classic sci-fi short story to the comics mainstream.
Shannon remains a fairly unique blend of competent and vulnerable, at least in media. There are Shannons all around us but, in fiction, the only kind of woman usually allowed to be this capable is the Strong Female Character™.
Thrown into a role she couldn’t have expected but has desperately missed, Shannon’s struggles to support and guide the newly developed Zoja civilization are quickly stymied by her own impatience, compassion, and uncertainty and, before long (at least from her point of view), she discovers that there are consequences to authority. The story touches on a myriad of issues, from identity to parenting to nationalism, but avoids any direct parallelism. The story is more of a parable, and a cunning one whose moral might be described as: beware of parables. But of course there are others: choose your heroes wisely, stand up for those who need it, not against others, ‘you gotta be kind.’
The story is told from two perspectives, Shannon’s own and that of Zoja history and religion. Kelly and Lanzing are clever with the dichotomies this creates. They’re careful not to value one telling over the other or to ignore the advantage that Shannon has as a single, still speaking, consciousness. At times Shannon, while clearly correct, does slip into or tacitly endorse authoritarian fallacies of her own. Even cleverer, the narration doesn’t present a one to one translation from Shannon to The Shan, demonstrating the effects of time, linguistics, and Zoja philosophy on her teachings in a way that deepens their place in the narrative.
That said, at times it is hard to get to the core of Shannon’s teachings. Perhaps justified by its intent as a wistful memory rather than an ethical sermon, Shannon’s story about how to deal with bullies is introduced in media res and I don’t blame the Zoja at all for not fully grasping its message. This confuses the message of the story further and muddles what is otherwise a careful tuned and delightfully subtle ambiguity.
I’ll also say that nailing down the length of one of Shannon’s jumps as eight years serves to weaken the impression that she was moving on geological time in the previous issue. I suppose that it’s possible that her jumps simply slowed, but it’s hard to determine whether this has more to do with the time she’s skipping or the development rate of the Zoja. It’s not a serious point against the issue, but it’s an interesting quibble that time will reveal as an odd mistake or a notable choice.
Nathan Gooden’s art is even cleaner and more forceful this go around, not to mention benefiting from the stronger direction of this script. Gooden may not have the chance to design as many horrific and beautiful beasties, though the one we get is pretty solid, nor as many stunning landscapes, but his depictions of the Zoja are pretty stellar. Gooden’s sensuous, river-like lines suit both Shannon and the Zoja wonderfully, blending the real and the fantastic with little more than variations in the harshness of angles to differentiate between them.
Gooden also has a really strong sense of pace that finds particular expression through his layouts. Some quite talented artists don’t understand the value of varying page compositions while others employ them but default back to their comfort zones, but that’s not at all a problem here. Zojaqan #2 really feels exciting for the variation and consciousness of its page design.
I also appreciate how much lighter the story feels. Meeting the Zoja provides a sense of connection for Shannon and you can feel that in the artwork. Not only how she holds herself or reacts to them, but just how Gooden draws the book, with a cartoony flourish from time to time.
Zojaqan remains a beautiful comic and has evolved alongside its seeming namesakes into an even more complete and effective work. With greater clarity and a stronger narrative thread, I feel like I can recommend that you pick up Zojaqan #2 even if the first issue didn’t do it for you, or even passed you by entirely. Shan’s growing relationship, yes with individuals, but even more with the Zoja society, is a thoughtful and unique one allowed by her strange disconnect from time. The two speculative conceits of the series build upon each other wonderfully. With shades of Ray Bradbury and a refreshing honesty, Zojaqan suddenly reappears out of the past, ready to find its audience.
Zojaqan #2 is currently available in shops from Vault Comics.