Going into Beyonders #1 I was expecting something akin to National Treasure. Now I think Spy Kids would be a better film comparison, but it’s not immediately obvious starting out. We haven’t been properly introduced when Jacob Tate proceeds to bring us up to speed on one of his conspiracy theories.
I’m following Jacob’s teacher’s lead in calling it a “conspiracy theory”, but that’s not what I was thinking when Jacob was talking. Maybe that’s because Wesley St. Claire’s art acts as evidence that these people and objects existed (that they’re based in historical fact, not conjecture). Maybe it’s getting into the spirit of a comic that promises adventure, and the chance to search for clues.
Some would say it’s a wordy beginning. The National Treasure school of thought would have the series follow Jacob uncovering this information, not telling us about it off a bulletin board in his room, but writer, Paul Jenkins, sells us on Jacob’s passion. It’s so strong that’s he’s leading a one-sided conversation with readers because there’s no way you’re not going to get wrapped up in this mystery, too. While current me enjoys Jacob’s down-to-business pace, younger me would’ve had a field day, being bombarded with all this evidence at once.
It does leave the reader with more than a few questions. The trouble with Jacob being presumptuous is that he gets things wrong. While he seems to think we’ll want to know why his uncle’s obsessed with corned beef sandwiches, he doesn’t acknowledge a question that seems more obvious regarding a featured player in his mystery, George Mallory.
The other thing that makes discussing the issue hard is we don’t know what the mystery is. Jacob wants us to figure out why these pieces are connected, but what makes him think they’re connected, and what we’re working towards, is unclear. Then the issue starts going Spy Kids and there are more questions, some your garden variety, first issue questions, but others to do with plausibility.
In the meantime, you have adults acting strange (Paul is eerily chipper while Jacob’s teacher seems to have written him off unfairly), a very singular setting by St. Claire (the interior of Jacob’s house is stark but the exterior and the weather are wild and isolated – Jacob mentions Alaska but do you give your real location in a video chat with a stranger?).
Letterer, Marshall Dillon, does some cool speech bubbles for the video chat. They have depth and also acknowledge when we’re in the same room with Jacob, so his dialogue returns to regular speech bubbles (St. Claire also nails Jacob’s reaction to seeing who he’s going to be chatting with). One change since AfterShock released a preview for the issue is “Corgi fart” (in reference to Jacob’s dog, Shadwell) is now “furp,” which could be anything. The SFX blends in with the background now, too, where “Corgi fart” was in your face and explicit – a fun way of grounding a story that can get caught up in its global ambitions.
At the end of the issue, Jenkins shares that there are symbols scattered throughout the issue that form a secret message. Readers who crack the code can e-mail in for a chance to win a prize. The last time I decoded a message was when Eoin Colfer included one across the bottom of the pages in an Artemis Fowl book, but that was with a key. While I have one idea of where to start, and it’s not difficult to spot the symbols, it’s a little disappointing (if fair, since there’s a prize at stake) that it’s not easy. There might’ve been an argument for making it a little more achievable, for the satisfaction of being able to figure it out, but the idea’s fantastic, either way.
For all the plot in Beyonders #1, the series still doesn’t have a clear direction, but the rising stakes make it easy to imagine picking up issue two. A series that recalls those wonderful films from childhood where a kid would get a hunch, and it would actually bear fruit and change his life forever, Jacob may not have everything figured out yet, but there’s something to his theory that’s worth checking out when Beyonders #1 goes on sale today, August 29th, from AfterShock Comics.