Arcana Studios is really building up their standing in the comic book industry as of late. They have a multitude of titles that appeal to all types of readers, like the sadistic horror tale Lucas, to the World War 2 drama Grunts, to the outlandish humor story My Best Friend’s A Booger. But one title in particular has come to our attention, a title that has garnered such acclaim that it’s already sold out at the distributor level within its first few months of release.
Shadowlaw, written by Brandon Easton, is a mash-up of many different generes, including science fiction and horror. To top it off, the story focuses on many socio-political themes and sprinkles in a helping of religious dogma to boot. The future that Easton creates is bleak, with a politico-religious system overseeing all aspects of society. Freedoms are hindered in the name of the holy, and an elite policing force is in charge of maintaining all aspects of peace in the New Earth Alliance.
During what should be a routine protest quelling, an emotional outburst of Lieutenant Rictor Caesaro results in the murder of his commanding officer. He is arrested, judged and sentenced to the harshest prison, Sanctuary District 001, located in what used to be the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia. Rictor’s history as an NEA Trooper, the best fighting force around, wins him respect from the prison’s warden, who offers him the chance to help train the prison’s guards. One day, while patrolling the grounds, Rictor runs into a peculiar sight, one that sets the wheels of a devious plot into motion.
The first thing that strikes you about Shadowlaw is the advancements of the world in which it takes place. Religion and politics have melded into one controlling entity. And control they do. While this may seem difficult to follow, Easton provides readers with a history lesson as to how the world morph into what it became. The entire concept of the future world is both convoluted and simple at the same time. Easton draws off of current events and imagines them turning out as terribly as possible. The result is the world of Shadowlaw.
The creators use artistic changes creatively, helping to enhance the supernatural tone of the book. Though readers are given a lot of heavy story in the first chapter of the book, it’s a fairly tame, science-fiction tale to start with. A man is pushed to the brink of disgust and fights back against his superiors. As such, he is punished and sent to prison. Scott Kester’s art in this chapter is clean, his linework straightforward, and the colors bright and vibrant. He uses a few Photoshop blur effects, but not in excess, bringing life to his panels without being obviously annoying.
But the art changes drastically once the supernatural elements of the story kick in. Ryo Kawakami’s style is much free-form, his characters seemingly born out of sketch. He provides a natural sense of movement, foregoing the computerized effects. The colors of this section, provided by Dawnson Chen, are muddier and use more earthy tones. The emotional weight of the later portion of the book is much heavier, an aspect brought to life through the art. Though the change is jarring, like a Steven Spielberg movie suddenly being directed by Quentin Tarantino half way through, the effect works nicely to differentiate the change in atmosphere.
Easton has described the first draft of Shadowlaw, originally from a screenplay, as “Blade Runner meets The Lost Boys” and that description couldn’t have been any more true. While the story does draw from a few derivative elements, the complexities of the plot are really worth reading. Easton has developed an interesting property in Shadowlaw. The issue closes in as open-ended a way possible, which gives readers the satisfaction of a completed story but also opens up a whole new avenue for the creators to explore. There’s definitely a lot of story left to tell here, and I’m really hoping that Easton takes the opportunity to do so. If you can get your hands on a copy, I would recommend picking up Shadowlaw as it offers a fresh take on different genres.