The Victorian,
Act I: Self-Realization

by Trainor Houghton, Lovern
Kindzierski, Martin Montiel Luna
(Penny-Farthing, 1999)

There's a strange vigilante stalking New Orleans, cornering criminals and forcing them to repent. It may somehow be related to a Victorian secret society. Some bombs go missing, then turn up in rural field with no warning. One old man dying in a hospital bed seem to know something about it all, in an unspoken secret with a history professor. And the manipulation of time is going to be important at some point in the story. The Victorian, Act I: Self Realization is one busy graphic novel.

Apparently it's so busy that it can't keep track of what it's doing. Trainor Houghton and Lovern Kinzierski are obviously trying to create a certain air of mystery, but leave out so much connecting material that it results in incomprehensibility. There are a thousand plot threads drifting around, none of which clearly intersect. Professor Winston Fitzrandolph has some connection with the Victorian; his old friend in the hospital probably has even more. The bombs will presumably become relevant later. Likewise, the voodoo shrine and the taxi driver. Only the Victorian himself is clear in both his own purpose and his job in the story, making every diversion from him feel like unnecessary fluff instead tantalizing glimpses of a wider plot.

Part of the problem is in dialogue. I admit to unfair bias towards any modern characters that avoid contractions, or actually call their old friends "old friend" as a matter of course. Where sympathy for the characters might allow interest to float over some of the more strained plot moments, the awkward conversations and blunt caricatures of people kill it.

The situation is not helped by the vast amounts of unattributed dialogue that overlay flashbacks and cut scenes. Unattributed dialogue is always tricky, and none of the characters here have enough time to establish a strong enough speech pattern to be self-identifying. Few of the characters have enough time to establish anything at all; with so many plots, and the attempted collisions of so many secondary characters, most of the dramatis personae on this stage barely get a walk-on. Those with substantial parts, like Professor Fitzrandolph or Officer Leviticus Sherman, spend their time on disconnected, stream-of-dialogue snippets or overdone expositions. The most vital interaction occurs between three hoods who are hardly central to the story and, perhaps for that reason, slip out of the constrictive dialogue gagging all the other conversations.

The art seems to have conflict with itself somewhere between pencils, inks and colors. A certain blockiness often mars the finished product that doesn't show in the sample sketches. The coloring is smooth, but strangely flat, with strange defiance of normal lighting. It's not unredeemable, but echoes the lack of coherence in the writing too well.

It would all be less irritating if there weren't any potential for the book. But everything about The Victorian, Act I: Self Realization is almost good. The art isn't far from being well stylized, the characters clearly have some history for all their blandness. And there is, somewhere, a great story in The Victorian. But by the end of the novel, I didn't care enough to try and find it.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 1 November 2003

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