This is the second Jean-David Morvan graphic novel I’ve read this year and it bears many similarities to that other, similarly eponymous title, Naja. Here, once again, we have lethal disaffected, disenfranchised female operatives, a final mission, and the mind games that result. But the difference here is telling: the artwork of Huang-Jia Wei, in the style of manhua (manga), can’t keep up with the ideas and themes of Morvan. As a result, the art seems to be fighting the story and is puzzlingly inconsistent. It lets down the story completely.
Plot: In the space faring future, Zaya is a spiral – a covert operative in early retirement, living the life of an artist and mother of young twins. But when someone begins killing off spirals, she is called back into action to assist with taking out the rogue assassin. Zaya commandeers a ship, reformats its personality, and sets off to a far resort planet where the killer is hiding. But things are about to go very wrong for Zaya on this last mission.
From the beginning, it was obvious that the mission was going to be a MacGuffin. A lot of time is spent showing her happy normal life, especially with family – so much so that those family scenes are waving a reg flag saying, “We’re the Chekhov’s Gun, reader, look at us!” In any other writer’s hands, they would have had tombstones over their head. But my experience with Morvan’s works gave me confidence he wouldn’t go down that easy path of obvious vengeance for Zaya. Instead, we have a twisty plot with very unexpected outcomes and a story that I honestly wasn’t expecting.
And then we come to the art. We’re promised bio-mechanical space age but honestly, it’s a mess. I had a hard time following the plot this time and found myself going back and rereading and trying to figure out what the heck was happening. It was all over the place – and in some instances, features or body parts were very poorly drawn, as if done in a hurry and hoping no one would notice (one scene with Zaya boarding a ship had a leg so distorted as to look like jello).
As for the bio-mechanical aspects, the illustrations are very loose and lacking the symmetry and precision of manufacturing items. It didn’t feel like any of the mechanical parts could possibly have worked if they were that far out of a coherent spec as to be bumpy and wavy in odd places. As well, the running motif of the story seemed to be eyeballs falling out of the head. If someone died, eyeballs popped out, even mechanical ones. It got old fast.
The one thing that really sabotaged this for me was the manga-inspired fan service perspectives. Up the skirt with butt hanging out, it felt as if the illustrator was trying to destroy all credibility of the story and characters. It doesn’t happen often but there are ‘those’ type of panels that just make me cringe and take me out of the story. Morvan’s characters are beautiful without needing large chests heaving out of straining material or buttocks resembling watermelons. If the artist doesn’t take the character seriously, why should we? With the sophistication of this type of story, we really don’t need to pander to prepubescent school boys who read fan service heavy manga while tittering in their mommy’s basement.
I do love manga and even manhua; but this feels like a hybrid between European and Asian comics. For most of the time, that is. At odd panels, suddenly Zaya would look like a 12 year old Appleseed type character and then the next page she’d be the more European, older, serious manga influenced. It felt like a compilation of different artists or that the illustrator subbed out the work at times.
Zaya is very different from Naja. Heavy and plodding, with an older protagonist, where the other title had a young protagonist in an almost ethereal setting. Naja rewards with rereading but Zaya was a chore to reread – slogging through heavy, almost monochromatic panels with eyeballs popping out everywhere.
I do credit Morvan with yet another unique storyline, full of the mind games and twists that make the story interesting. As well, the girls are not (for the most part) fetishized, which for me gives his titles more maturity and legitimacy. It’s just a shame the illustrator wasn’t on board with the same concept.
This collects the series into one book and a complete story arc. Reviewed from an ARC.