Oblivion Song #1
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Lorenzo de Felici
Cover: Lorenzo de Felici
Colors: Annalisa Leoni
Letters: Rus Wooton
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
If anyone can be said to be the most successful writer in independent comics, it would likely be Robert Kirkman. His track record on The Walking Dead, which was a major hit both as a comic book and as a television series, deserves respect even from someone like myself who was never heavily invested in the zombie genre. Likewise, his recently ended but epic run on Invincible has been a masterclass in how to approach an independent superhero comic—it’s a heartfelt tribute to superheroes, but it was never afraid to shake up the formula in unexpected and dynamic ways. Even if Kirkman had created nothing else, he’d have made a powerful impact on the medium.
The question for Kirkman from this point onwards is what comes next for him. Those two series create powerful expectations for Kirkman, and many readers will no doubt wonder whether his new ideas can carry that same weight. With Oblivion Song, Kirkman does about the one thing one could reasonably expect from a writer of his caliber; he is attempting something entirely different. This time, he’s exploring a science fiction series, set in a world that has made contact with an alien universe, but with disastrous consequences.
With Oblivion Song, Robert Kirkman shows once again that he can still deliver the same genre-busting human drama that made him a household name.
Coming in with no knowledge of what this series is, it’s difficult to know what to make of this cover at first. There’s not much to latch on in terms of character, since we see the protagonist in a rear profile. We don’t get a face to identify with here, so we don’t connect to him visually. However, Lorenzo de Felici delivers a suitable cover that gives the reader a proper sense of tone and genre, even if you know nothing else about Oblivion Song. This cover properly conveys the sense of loss and desperation as Nathan Cole looks at a ruined city that has been marred by the alien presence of Oblivion. The mixture of human cityscape with alien overgrowth give a sense of the setting, and the brown and yellow shading help to establish the unnatural sense of the location. The perspective helps us look at Oblivion almost as Nathan himself does, which helps the sense of reader immersion. In that sense, it’s a solid cover that generally works for what it’s intended to do.
Towards the end of the issue, Robert Kirkman discusses what drew him to the work of Lorenzo de Felici, and it’s hard to argue with his reasoning. If this issue is anything to go by, de Felici has a strong future in the industry. From the introduction, de Felici establishes himself as a strong visual storyteller, and his layouts bring the action to life with some brisk pacing. Moreover, these panels are emotionally expressive; the fear is palpable on the faces of these surviving humans in Oblivion as they struggle to flee the alien creature that is chasing them. There isn’t a single line of dialogue to be found in this sequence, yet there is no question what is happening in these pages. This deepens further as we’re introduced to Nathan Cole, who the creative team sensibly decided to make into a normal-looking character who’s been weathered by harsh experience. The artwork tells a hidden story in each line with these characters, telling the story through small facets of detail.
Another important facet of de Felici’s work on this title is the impressive scope of world design. While he has the advantage of working from Robert Kirkman’s detailed worldbuilding ideas, de Felici brings a distinctive flavor to these ideas. The world of Oblivion looks truly alien, not only in terms of the design of the creatures, but also with simple elements such as the overgrowth that overtakes the buildings. The plants look recognizable, but there are subtle touches of the otherworldly that remind the reader what de Felici is showing us in these panels. This is a well-designed setting, and de Felici succeeds in realizing the depth and texture of this place.
The work of Annalisa Leoni helps to further realize the setting of Oblivion Song through some strong, vibrant colors. One of the most interesting aspects of the coloring work in this issue is how well it distinguishes Earth from the world of Oblivion. This is especially most notable during the crossing scenes, where something as simple as the color of the sky can establish location. Oblivion is presented with a sickly green or an unnatural violet, contrasting with the welcoming blue sky as Nathan returns to Earth. Everything in Oblivion looks wrong in some way, in part because Leoni chooses colors that are deliberately off-putting or disturbing. In addition, the lighting in this issue is extremely well done, and here as well it helps to establish a sense of place. The characters are also well highlighted, and it’s even possible to guess where a character is largely through how the characters are lit in each scene. These colors bring out the best in de Felici’s pages, and Leoni a welcome presence in this book.
Rus Wooton is an experienced hand that contributes nicely to the style and tone of this series. I’ve appreciated his work since his time on Invincible, and there’s something about his style that reminds me of great letterers like John Workman. This is particularly true when it comes to his sound effects, which always hit the correct note and always with the right level of impact. The sound effects enhance to the unnatural feel of the setting, but they’re powerful during action sequences. Gunshots hit with greater force because of the font and the size of the text, and the monster’s bellowing is more fearsome because the text uses the right amount of space in the panel. However, even moments such as the memorial wall honoring those lost to Oblivion look solemn and hit the right emotional notes. Dialogue-heavy panels breathe nicely in these pages, allowing the visuals to tell the story through the frames. The lettering has weight when it needs to, but it also knows when to step back, the mark of solid lettering.
Although I’ve long respected the work of Robert Kirkman, I had no real expectations coming into this series. While he’s produced amazing content in his career, he’s also written titles that aren’t as noteworthy or memorable. Oblivion Song, however, taps into the same magic as The Walking Dead, at least in terms of Kirkman’s strengths. He functions at his best when he can find the humanity in the genre that he’s exploring, especially when he can explore the possibilities in that genre that other writers have missed. The singular idea of an Earth city that crossed over into an alien dimension is a simple one, but because Kirkman is excellent at worldbuilding, he clearly establishes how that one element changes everything about the world we know. Though the story leaves many open questions for future issues, the story revolves around the dominoes that fell because of the singular key event.
However, one of the hallmarks of Kirkman’s writing is his ability to see the humanity in any genre setting, whether that’s the zombie apocalypse or a world like Oblivion. The storytelling considers the human consequences of the Oblivion event as well, centering especially on the idea of families torn apart. Though we don’t know exactly why or how this took place, we’re given just enough to understand who Nathan Cole is. He’s an otherwise ordinary man who’s driven by guilt and desperation to find the brother he lost on the other side. He’s not presented as any sort of a superhero, but more in the vein of a Rick Grimes, caught up in events and determined to make the best of the hand life has dealt him. Cole is obsessive, but his reasons are understandable, and Kirkman succeeds in making him a sympathetic character to experience this setting through. We know somewhat less about the supporting cast, though undoubtedly we’ll learn more about them as the series gradually unfolds. For now, they perform the roles they’re meant to play, as the focus is more about Nathan’s obsessive need to save the people trapped in Oblivion.
As to the setting itself, it’s quite an interesting place, even though much of the depth of this world is only hinted at. With a city lost in another universe, that has clear effects on the people who have survived. The political situation on Earth is bleak, but on one level understandable, even though we’re meant to sympathize with Nathan’s position as he struggles to gain support for his efforts. As to Oblivion itself, this world comes across as truly alien, and not simply because of de Felici’s outstanding visuals. Kirkman has clearly thought out the consequences of an alien presence even on simple things as the air humans breathe, the presence of pathogens, and other SF elements. Likewise, the story also suggests at how life in that alien world would affect humans, both physically as well as socially, though we’re only given a hint at how the people trapped in Oblivion regard those who left. This is a world I’m interested in exploring further, even if the tone looks somewhat bleak on both sides of the divide.
If you’re on the fence about Oblivion Song, I would suggest giving this title a look. This debut issue is a good, accessible starting point, but it also suggests much deeper layers to this setting that leave me hopeful for more. On that basis, it more than earns its cover price, offering a new world and new characters that are worth following for the time being. Because of that, this issue earns an earth-shattering 9.5/10, with a potential for more if it realizes the possibilities of what Kirkman and de Felici have presented us. This is the perfect opportunity to get on the ground floor on a project that hopefully will be another major success for Skybound.
Written By Steve Sellers
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