Harmony volume 1 cover detail by Mathieu Reynes

The Amnesiac Girl With Telekinesis: Harmony v1: “Memento”

One day, Harmony wakes up in an unfamiliar basement having completely lost her memory. All she now knows of the world is the name of her “host,” the mysterious voices in her head and a newly discovered talent for telekinesis. She’s going to have to get her memory back pretty quickly in order to face the dangers that await her. There are so many unanswered questions, and the fight has only just begun…

A Good Hollywood Comparison

The first volume of “Harmony” reads to me like the first episode of a television series, or the first act of a movie.

I don’t say that as a complaint. Normally, it would be. I’d decry a comic for recycling an unsold movie script and complain that they don’t use all the benefits of the medium to tell a story.

And I’d be right.

With “Harmony,” though, the storytelling style for this first album — and in particular in the first half — feels very cinematic to me.  In it, tweenie Harmony wakes up in the basement of an unknown house.  She doesn’t remember a thing, nor does she know where she is.

We see her exploration of her area, questioning everything and being upset by the whole thing.  There are end-of-page blackouts to end each vignette, before a new one starts up and puts her in a new place, physically or emotionally.

You get little segments, little scenes.

Harmony blackout example, mid-page, by Mathieu Reynes

In this sample, the blackout is mid-page, and you cut from the black to the full light.  It feels very filmic to me.

Harmony is an actress in those scenes.  She acts here. This isn’t just about passing along information.  There’s a five page sequence here that could have run five panels to tell the same amount of story.  Heck, I bet the creator could have done it in three panels, if he chose the right angles.

That’s not what he’s going for here.  He’s setting a stage. He’s establishing a location and a feeling and a mood.  It’s dark in that basement.  Her legs are weak and she has trouble walking.  She looks around for clues, but finds very little.   There’s an apple and a sandwich.  Where did those come from?  Can they be trusted?

As she discovers something, so does the reader.

Author, artist, and co-colorist Mathieu Reynes takes you through all of those moments.  He doesn’t just dump the information on you so he can get to the rest of the story.  He directs the scene and takes you through bit by bit of it.

Show, don’t tell.

Harmony acts on the page, looking and taking tentative steps

Coming out of a blackout, Harmony looks for clues, takes action…

I find this whole structure fascinating.  It gets back a bit to the storyboard type of storytelling I was trying to define earlier in 2016.  The panels choose careful angles, each a cut in the scene.  Specific moments are given unique and singular images to go along with them.  Every beat feels meticulously planned to bring the reader somewhere, or to show the reader one specific thing.

 

Generational Warfare

There's a story set 4000 years in the past to begin the book. It will eventually tie in, I guess.

The book begins with a two page scene set 4000 years in the past. At some point, this will connect to the future.  That won’t be in this book. (I’ve also read the second book.  It doesn’t happen in there, either.)

I’m starting to see a pattern here.  Too many comics — Franco-Belgian and North American, as well — are telling the stories of that one modern day person who’s linked back to an ancient war they didn’t ask to be part of.  “Morea” is like that.  So are “Sangre” and “Isabellae.” “Romulus” at Image Comics does that.

They’re books of various quality, but it seems this generational thing keeps hitting.  I know there’s more I’m not thinking of now.  It reminds me a bit of the 90s when every superhero suddenly had a lineage.  Picture all the Batmans through time.  Remember ShadowHawk through the ages?  The Spider Totem in Spider-Man?  (OK, that was early 2000s, but close enough.)  Witchblade getting passed down over generations?

Every character could be retrofit with an earlier, well-themed version of themselves.  Every character has a heritage. (DC gets a bit of a pass on this, as that’s always been they’re thing.)

I seem to be reading this formula in a lot of books all of a sudden.  The funny thing about seeing it in the Franco-Belgian market is that they support plenty of books that already are historical fiction.  There are series set in a time frame of 100, 200, 1000 years ago. They don’t need to sneak it in under the cover of a modern character who happens to have links to that older time.

 

The Art of Mathieu Reynes

I love Reynes’ art.  It reminds me a bit of Marcial Toledano, of “Ken Games” fame.  Reynes draws characters that have unique silhouettes and body language.  You can tell the main characters apart from their shadows, if you had to.

Harmony is a skinny young girl with a big head and a dramatic head of blonde hair that plays out in dramatic ways.  Her eyes are outlined in a dark black line that matches her black eyebrows.

Her “captor”, Nita, is a bigger, older man whose neck has disappeared into his shoulders, all upper body. He has a white beard and equally white long hair.

Mahatma is an old lady with a distinctive silhouette in Harmony v1

Mahatma looks like a Pixar character

Mahatma, a wise native woman who lives next door, has a very short body, with a large head with plenty of wrinkles and oversized black-rimmed glasses.

The final lines are sleek and confident. He’s able to draw these characters and their surroundings from any height or angle. He keeps things natural, not exaggerating for cartoony effect or showing off.  Characters feel more human, and less “cartoon,” but without the stiff feeling that the more naturalistic artists might stumble into.

Coloring credit goes to ” Valerie Vernay and Mathieu Reynes”.  I don’t know how much each worked on, but it works, for sure.  It goes hand in hand with the art to create a modeled look for the characters, and then shines brightly on its own when someone is using their powers. Light sources are carefully considered and often used to great effect, such as the light pouring in through an open window, or a dark room lit up by a candle.  It’s great environmental work.

Harmony v1 - the coloring makes the light source glow

Also, the lights glow.  They don’t just light things up. They’re almost volumetric, like in computer animation.  It’s impressive without being distracting.  It helps to set a mood, not take over the show.

 

Reynes’ Prior Work

Turns out, I’ve read Reynes’ art before. I didn’t realize it until I looked him up on-line.

He did a multi-part series called “Alter Ego.”  I read the first volume of it last year. I liked his art on it, but it looks very different from what you see here.  It’s much cartoonier, with a very flat coloring style.

Take a look at “Alter Ego”:

 

Sample art sequence by Reynes from Alter Ego v1

Compared to “Harmony”:

Sample art sequence by Reynes from Harmony v1

Coloring makes a huge difference, doesn’t it?  As does a few years of cartooning experience…

That first “Alter Ego” volume is an interesting, complicated, twisty story that might also be worth a review of someday. It’s also one that needs the next five volumes to make any sense, I fear.

Recommended?

Harmony volume 1 cover

Click to buy on Amazon Kindle/Comixology

Yes.

It’s too early to call whether the overall story arc of this series is worth a read. Honestly, at this point, I almost don’t care.  I’m in for the ride.  The experience of this first volume is strong enough that not only do I want to know more, but I want Reynes to take me along for that ride.  I trust him.

There is more to this story. I worry a bit that tying it into some ancient grudge match between warring factions will push my willing suspension of disbelief a little too far.  But the possible concept of “girl against the world” and “trust nobody” is a strong enough start to the series. I’m suspicious of everyone, and I’m rooting for Harmony to figure out her powers and how to get away from the grip of the various people in the world who wish to claim her as their own.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #45.)

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