The Ring of the Seven Worlds v1 cover header image

The Ring of the Seven Worlds, v1: “The Calm Before the Storm”

I love a good fantasy world.  I love worlds that are airborne.  I love a feisty lead character.  I love bright coloring in comics. I love action sequences that punctuate a story.  These are all things that appeal to me.

“The Ring of the Seven Worlds” is a series from Humanoids that I should absolutely love. It has all of those things.

Unfortunately, this first volume is a bit uneven.  It’s not bad enough that I’m giving up on it, but there’s enough drawbacks in the storytelling and story structure that I can’t recommend it just yet.

The Ring of the Seven Worlds v1 The Calm Before the Storm cover

The Story and Character Roll Call

Let me just quote Humanoid’s description, because I’m not sure I could do this off the top of my head:

Seven planets linked to one another by the multidimensional gates of a giant ring. Only the passage to Nemo, one of the Seven Worlds, has remained sealed for three centuries, in order to confine its people after they savagely attacked the rest of the Empire. When the infamous gate reopens and unleashes the ancient enemy, Timo and Luce, two teenagers from the planet Mose, are caught up in a war they were not prepared to fight.

The first half of that is covered in a first page exposition dump to set the world up for you. After that, though, there’s a series of introductions to different parts of the world and different characters in it.

They tend to come in pairs:

Seven Worlds prologue meeting

We meet these three guys first, but they’re plot cannon fodder, so ignore them….

There’s Timo and Antro, two young boys who get into trouble. They’re unlikable.  The first time we see them, they’re beating up random people on the train for kicks:

Timo and Antro are troubled youths running from authority

There’s Luce and Mugo, siblings who live up in the sky. We later find out that they’re part of some kind of flying circus, I guess.  They’re just passing through town, I think.

Seven Worlds Luce and Mugo live in the skies

There’s the world’s leader and Piropa, a member of his administration whom he has a disagreement with and who looks clearly like the sniveling bad guy.  (He is.) They’re not terribly likable. Piropa is a jerk, and the leader is a bit hotheaded, as well.

Seven Worlds Meet the Supreme Director

Two young women named Volpa and Gatta are up to no good. They’re working with Piropa.  They’re just bad for the sake of it.  They’re not likable, and they start things off on the wrong foot by needlessly harassing Timo, who they don’t realize is the son of the planet’s leader we also just met.

Volpa and Gatta introduce themselves

Though he has the same expression as Mugo above, that’s a different character in that second panel.He doesn’t have freckles.

Then we see the two badder guys who Volpa and Gatta work for, who are themselves working for someone even worse.

We’re a good three layers deep into the evil on that plot thread now, and by the end of this first book everyone is hatching desperate plans in opposite directions trying to get to the same ending. We also already have way too many characters, and the connections are slow in coming. The introductions happen so fast that we can’t settle in and get to know anyone or like anyone before we turn the page and meet new people and need to figure out how they fit into the world and if they’re at all connected to the people we just read about or anyone else in the book.

The story still hasn’t really started.  So far we’ve read a half dozen introductions in an attempt to world build while putting the chess pieces on the board.  Some pieces sorta randomly connect, others are just floating out there, waiting to find their connections.

When Luce (sky girl) meets Timo (son of world leader), things finally get interesting.  There’s an actual chemistry there.

All the loose plot threads laying about also find new focus and start crossing over more rapidly. But by then, it’s almost too late.  That thing we were expecting and waiting for starts to feel like too much of a coincidence, or is forced to push the story ahead instead of the logic or the actions of strong characters.

I just wish the inciting event that brought every plot closer together had started sooner. Or, failing that, I wish the book picked one central character and tied the story around their point of view.  This attempt to create an ensemble cast grew tiring quickly.  I think Luce is meant to be that character.  She has the best moments in the book and probably the most page time, but it’s still not enough. She risks getting lost very early in the story in a sea of other plot threads.

Writing credits on the book go to Giovanni Gualdoni and Gabrielle Clima.  I’m getting the sense here that this book comes out of Italy, to be published by Humanoids.

Looks Like Manga/Anime School of Art

The art by Matteo Piana with colors by Davide Turotti is often very pretty.

There is an obviously huge manga/anime influence to this book, which isn’t necessarily an anomaly in the Franco-Belgian publishing world.  There’s a whole category of books with European creators emulating manga to a certain degree. That’s just like the whole category of lookalike artists trying desperately to follow the likes of Philippe Francq, for example, and do everything in a photo referenced style with lots of thin lines, photo referenced architecture, and stiff people.

Piana doesn’t use many black areas on his pages.  This is all thin outlines and open areas meant to let the coloring guide the ship. Since he’s designing the art with that style of color in mind, it all works.

He also draws plenty of backgrounds and can show characters in motion well.

While the art mimics some of that anime style, it still leads more towards the storytelling styles of more classic European comics.  You’re not getting too many speedlines, extreme close-ups, and huge panels filling up every page, with characters in exaggerated emotional states and small chibi versions of them in the margins.

The art, itself, is pleasant enough, though I did have some issues on the first pass keeping characters separated in my mind who resemble each other.  When they disappear for a few pages and pop back in, there’s always a nagging sense of doubt that it’s the same character. Some of the backgrounds look a little too rough or simplistic, while there are spots where that extra detail would be helpful in the storytelling.

There are, however, some storytelling shortcomings that drive me nuts.

 

The Storytelling Faults

There aren’t enough wide angle shots, and when there are, they are too isolated to provide the proper perspective.  The busiest panels that are drawn to show the most of a new area are often narrow and feel cramped.  When Piana does pull his camera out more, there’s no relationship between the wide angle panel and the next one.  If you’re supposed to get the feeling like the person in panel two is specifically in that one spot from the first panel, you’re not going to get it.  There’s no focus in that panel to gives you that clue.  Word balloon tails only go so far.

There are lots of other examples of actions that appear disconnected.  Your mind can fill in the blanks to tell what’s going on, but it shouldn’t have to work that hard.  Nor should it have to assume that what you think is going on is actually going on.

If you’re going to mimic the style of manga, at least mimic how clear the storytelling is, even when it takes ten pages to show a single swing of the sword or race down the stairs or something.

Establishing Shots versus Point of View Shots

Here’s a really good example from early in the book. This scene introduces Luce, who we later learn has never touched the ground.

But take a look at this page:

The establishing shot on this page establishes nothing.

The first panel establishes the hell out of the location, right?

We cut in the second panel right up to Luce.  Now, look back at that establishing shot in the first panel.  Where’s Luce in there?  What’s the relationship between the establishing shot and the following sequence of panels?  There’s none. There’s not even a word balloon in the first panel that would helpfully point to where Luce is in there.

When her brother, Mugo, comes into the scene, he’s never shown in the same panel with her even once, so it’s touch to judge how close they are or where they are in relation to each other.  Following eye lines, she’s higher than he is and just slightly to her right, but that lack of connection in a panel with a simple two shot is frustrating.  My mind is racing to close that information gap, which only distracts me from the story.

The rest of the panels are too tight to give us a clue as to where they are, either, save the second to last one. OK, so she’s up in the air on a metal sphere of some kind. Look back at the first panel.  Where’s that sphere-on-a-spire?  There are some things that kinda look like balloons rising up in front of that wall in the back.  Is that it?

Or, wait, is that establishing shot not really establishing anything?  Is it her point of view?  We cut to a close up on her face in the second panel, so maybe this is Piana’s way of showing us what Luce is seeing. Flipping to the next page about halfway down we get this panel:

Finally, there's an establishing shot with a word balloon on the next page.

Compare that to the first panel on the previous page and I think that makes sense.

The establishing shot is really her point of view shot and we don’t establish her location until a page and a half later. Instead, we confuse the reader by giving Luce’s point of view first, and not revealing her location until a page and a half later, when the reader is already confused and there’s no story benefit in holding that information back.

Also, this is another great example of how important word balloons and lettering are.  Having them point to a dot on an establishing shot gives the reader an immediate and easy way to get a sense of location. Having one pointing off panel, say to the bottom left somewhere, would have helped establish that it was a point of view shot. Without that word balloon, the reader loses a big chunk of information that would help make sense of the sequence.

There’s a sequence later where some ridiculously large ships suddenly show up and ram into the city, and the storytelling is so scattered that there’s no way to tell where the ships are landing, which parts of the city they’re destroying, who’s in danger, where the characters are running in relation to the ships, etc. The establishing shots are just not wide enough and don’t tell the story beyond showing a snippet of a random ship blowing up a random chunk of the city.  You know the characters are in danger, but you don’t know if they’re solution is helping or hurting because there’s no way to see anything.

Jump, Fall, Get Up, and Do Something Unrelated?

Seven Worlds Luce jumps and hits her head, maybe

Here’s a moment of Luce at home, where she lives with her grandmother. We know from various points in the book that she can jump a long way and not get hurt.  Gravity is different up in the sky ship where she lives, I guess. But what is happening in this sequence?  I can’t tell. She jumps from upstairs right into the dining room or kitchen, appears to hit her head on the table, and comes up grabbing at her throat.

The art is nice, but we could use a couple of word balloons somewhere to help explain what I’m watching and why.

The Wind Up and the Pitch (Without the Wind Up)

And what happens here?

Seven Rings Luce gets knocked off her perch by a boy with a broom

Luce meets Timo.  We start this sequence with an establishing shot that features both characters and gives us an idea of where they stand in relation to each other.  That’s good.  But then Timo comes back after walking away in the first panel with a broom in his hand in the third panel.  Next, the broom appears behind Luce’s head, and she’s knocked off the rope she was crouching on.  I guess he threw it at her?  Or did he climb closer to her and take a jab at her?

I think the problem here is in the panel where he’s seen holding the broom. It’s too static.  He should be shown about to throw the brook.  Maybe he’s rearing back with the broom in one hand, pointing up.  Instead, he’s looking around a corner, holding it like a cue stick.

In true comedic style, she falls off the wire so fast that the broom freezes in mid-air behind her. So I guess he threw it at her. Wish there were some speed lines or something in that fourth panel to help indicate it.  The would clear up a bunch.

These storytelling speed bumps add up after a while…

 

Recommended?

Not yet.

At the end of the first volume, things are starting to fall into place. It’s a little clumsy getting there, but there’s potential upside with the rest of the series.

But why would I believe that the clumsiness of the first volume will suddenly disappear?  Odds are good that the rest of the series, as well intentioned as the story might be, will still be hung up on confusing storytelling choices and questionable plotting strategies.

I’ll give the second volume a try someday, but I can’t fully recommend this series yet.

 

 

How To Get It

Comixology offers the series in four volumes, regularly priced at $5.99 each.  This first book is available on Comixology Unlimited, also. The first volume has been on sale for half that at least twice so far this year.

Humanoids, itself, offers the entire series packaged into one book in softcover and hardcover. The softcover is roughly the same price as the four digital comics.  As a bonus, they also have cleaned up a couple of the lettering issues I found on the Comixology version of this material.

 

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #34.)

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