Somewhere around the middle of Crossfire, I began to realize that I just wasn’t caring about either the characters or the plot. I love steampunk and certainly enjoy a good urban fantasy or re imagination of a classic. But this story was so inert, suffering from both shallow characterizations and a rather trite plot. Perhaps the best summation is that (and here is the irony for a graphic novel), we’re given all tell and no show.
Story: In a series of interconnected stories, Alyss’s instability on the throne shows through assassination attempts, a mission to Victorian London, and a large scale invasion. It is up to Alyss’ wits and her friends’ skills to keep Wondertropolis from being overrun by Boarderlanders.
There is a lot of dialogue here – and it is that talk which furthers the story much more than the illustrations. If anything, the illustrations are very static – vague pictures drawn to the dialogue rather than the other way around. I honestly keep feeling that the illustrator wasn’t given much detail on the scenes and so just draw vague pretty pictures to try to get the point across. There weren’t enough segues between scenes and each panel felt so disparate and solitary. It all lacked flow.
The story itself (a Steampunked Alice in Wonderland? I’m there!) was disappointing. All the magic and wonder of the genre was leeched out in the art and story – a monochromatic color wash whose color choices felt random. The art so intricate and the dialogue so heavy that each page was truly a chore to read. Both as stiff as a board and about as intriguing.
If there had been some spark of something creative in the story, I might have been entranced. But bog standard assassination attempts, some rather dull cavorting around London, and then a big invasion with creatures such as jabberpantheras were just too uninspired. It wasn’t fun and instead drearily plotted.
I think the worst issue I had was the over-the-top dialogue. Every main character made speeches about how perfect they were – whether it is the swordsman who defeats everyone while crowing about it, the queen who says there’s nothing that goes on in Wondertropolis that she doesn’t know about, or the thief who says no jail can hold him. I got tired of the ‘tell’ and just wanted more ‘show’.
Crossfire isn’t terrible by any means. But it is very hollow where there should have been beating a warm steampunk heart. And characters needed to show more nuance and weaknesses in order to be interesting, intriguing, and believable. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.