Spoiler Warning: It should go without saying that there are spoilers in my reviews, so if you want to experience these stories and their surprises for yourself, maybe skip the rest of this article. Long story short: If you’re a fan of comics as a visual storytelling medium, you should definitely pick up The Gifted books 1-3!
San Diego Comic Con this past weekend was a pretty frenetic experience – the crowds, the noise, and the overall excitement in the air proved to be overwhelming and exhausting, but in the best of ways. I managed to break away from running demos of my board game long enough to look around the Exhibit Hall, and surprisingly, I only walked out with indie comics.
One of those indie comics was Hex11 (click here for my review), and the other was The Gifted (books 1-3) from CME Comics, written by Damian & Adrian Wassel and illustrated by Nathan C. Gooden. Both of these comics are awesome in their own ways.
The Gifted follows the journey of an unnamed wolf (I’ll call him the Wolf) through a desolate landscape. In the aftermath of numerous wars, Mother Nature has given up on humanity, and the human race is struggling to survive. The story emphasizes how dire the situation is not just for homo sapiens, but for wild animals as well, as the Wolf hunts for a meal in the earliest pages of the comic. Eventually, the Wolf encounters an installation filled with livestock, and attracts the ire of the humans who inhabit the facility. After being wounded, The Wolf manages to escape back into the wasteland, stumbling across a pool of water and an expected salvation.
As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to new characters, both allies and enemies. The allies are a Bear and a Crow who befriend the Wolf. The enemies are a group of humans and their bloodhounds, who set off to hunt the Wolf for trespassing on their facility and threatening their livestock. Book 3 takes it a step further, introducing a community of wild animals that the Wolf, Bear, and Crow join, while at the same time fleshing out the human side of the story with new human characters.
Book 3 ends on a truly galling cliffhanger, with the animals preparing to lay siege to the human installation.
I’ll be upfront – I was extremely impressed with The Gifted from start to finish. Gooden’s art is all done by hand, and I want to say it’s done in water color (but I could be wrong about that). The entire thing is a shining example of the “less is more” philosophy. It capitalizes on the visual element of comic books, including almost zero dialogue through the first two volumes. The books utilize very little color, except in scenes where Mother Nature is speaking to the Wolf, or when the animal characters stumble upon one of the rare areas of lush vegetation, new life, and all-important water. The lack of color, in general, creates a distinct emotional atmosphere, conveying the bleakness of the future in which the story is set.
Similarly, the lack of dialogue throughout books 1 & 2 is decidedly compelling. The Gifted relies on its art to convey the story, and Gooden’s illustrations are easily up to that task. When dialogue does come up, it starts out as near-gibberish (though it’s possible to decipher it fairly easily, since it uses phonetic spellings and symbols to approximate English), slowly morphing into recognizable characters and words over the course of many pages. This makes sense, as the story is ostensibly being told from the Wolf’s perspective, and the Wolf wouldn’t understand human language. Ultimately, it is a good thing that the dialogue gets translated for the reader’s benefit, but that initial approach helps the reader to empathize and side with the Wolf, since the humans’ intentions are unclear initially beyond a vague sense of aggression and violence.
Of course, a lack of dialogue does not mean that there was no writing involved. The Wassels have an excellent grasp of pace, theme, and tension, and I imagine they are similarly skilled at storyboarding to help shape a narrative. The pace of the books is excellent, building slowly to any true “action” or climax. Far from being a deterrent, this sedate pace strengthens the reader’s connection with the Wolf, the Bear, and the Crow. I found myself paying more attention to the body language of each character, studying each panel closely to make sure I was interpreting events correctly. As a result, I became invested in these three animals’ fates, and I am very interested in seeing where the story goes from here – I can’t wait for the next volume.
All that is a long way of saying that I unequivocally recommend that you go pick up The Gifted. If you’re a fan of comics as a visual storytelling medium, this one will absolutely add some depth to your collection, in terms of genre, art style, and storytelling style.