Back in November, gameandcomic.com reviewed the first volume of Archeologists of Shadows, The Resistance. We were big fans, particularly noting the book’s fantastic action sequences and dreamlike art. (Read Andrew’s full review of A.O.S. Vol. 1 here.) But is the second installment of Septagon Studios’ most ambitious project, Once a Nightmare, any good?
The first volume introduced us to the fantasy world of A.O.S. There, the ruling authorities believe, from their interpretation of the Book of References, that the gods will the world towards complete mechanization. Through the mechanization process—which seems to be some sort of disease or virus—the world’s plants, animals, and humans (?) have become almost entirely robotic. There is nary a trace of organic life, so much so that strands of hair have become a sort of black market currency. The authorities militaristically enforce mechanization, sending anyone who resists to the mysterious Saint Peter.
Some heretics resist the mechanization process. Baltimo and Alix, the protagonist pair of the series, are two such rebels. The arc of the first volume sees them learn of and actively join the organized resistance alongside the Archeologists of Lights—who fight the authorities in the streets—and the Archeologists of Shadows—who study the Book of References for ways to combat mechanization.
Writer Lara Fuentes and artist Patricio Clarey have created a memorably eerie world for A.O.S. Much of the credit goes to Fuentes for her engaging dialogue and strong characterization, but it’s Clarey’s impossibly unique and nightmarish art that sticks with you. The first volume of A.O.S. was beautiful, but in Once a Nightmare Patricio Clarey’s sense of storytelling has improved immensely. Simply put, every page in this book is mind-blowing.
It is hard to describe Clarey’s art because it is so much different from anything else you’ll find on a comic rack. The most accurate way I can explain his process is that it’s a form of collage, bringing together shopped photos, 3-D computer models, digital painting, and illustration. What you really need to do is read the book twice. The first time, read it for the story and initial impressions of the art. The second time, take it slow and study the art on every page. Half the fun of the book is treating it like an I Spy book and trying to find out what the compositions are made of. Bottles, cables, popsicle sticks, watch faces, nuts and bolts, remote controls, barrels, blankets, and more hide in the images. (Baltimo’s torso is the head of an electric shaver… and somehow it’s too cool.)
And like I said, Clarey’s sense of storytelling has grown since the last volume. The first volume, The Resistance, featured a steam-punk-like world that was more cluttered and difficult to read. In Once a Nightmare, Baltimo and Alix have travelled to the oniric world, a dream world that is lush, vibrant, and teeming with organic life and disturbing creatures. Here, and throughout the book, Clarey’s storytelling is cleaner and more coherent. His layouts and panels are more dynamic, and characters especially are more distinguishable from the environment. By framing the story around Baltimo and Alix’s exploration of this new world, Clarey allows the reader to experience the same sense of awe.
There are a few issues to nitpick. The villains—the authorities and their leader—are one-dimensional compared to the other characters. While legitimately threatening, their motivations could be explored and strengthened. There are also points in the book—and I’ll be vague to avoid spoilers—where Baltimo seems too trusting too early. The reader will have many questions; here’s hoping Volume 3 answers a lot of them.
Archeologists of Shadows, Volume 1 was a great introduction, but Volume 2: Once a Nightmare is an improvement in nearly every way. The stakes are higher, the action more frequent and exciting, the characters more engaging, and the art more gorgeous. Fuentes and Clarey have spent focused a lot of time and energy into this project, and more people need to do themselves the favor of reading it.
Go read A.O.S. Vol. 2, and keep an eye out for Volume 3: The Alter Egos.
To find out more about Archaeologists of Shadows, check out Septagon Studios’ official A.O.S. site at http://aoscomic.septagonstudios.com/