Broken Souls Ballad (#1 – 4) – Massimo Rosi

2 out of 5

You can leave things open-ended and weird in your first issue – that can be part of the hook. And you can build on that open-ended weirdness in your second issue. …But maybe by your third, instead of adding to that, you should start giving us an indication of what it’s all about, and then, like, certainly by the end of your mini-series, we should at least have a payoff of sorts, even if it’s just to set up another mini-series.

Or: you can end seemingly mid-scene, mid-thought, and leave your four issues as a list of half-steps towards a plot.

I’d like to be more favorable toward Broken Souls Ballad, as I found those first two issues pretty engaging – excepting some indie book sloppiness, in terms of some loose editing that left dialogue and visual direction a bit questionable at points – but I experienced such a sharp dropoff in its latter two issues that it’s hard to not feel some frustration towards it. And while I don’t mean for the above description to suggest that the series is without plot – it’s here, and you can, indeed, put together the general gist from what we have – its presentation is wayward, and what you glean of its workings feels incidental, like writer Massimo Rosi has ideas that will eventually be written, but in the meanwhile we have some teen horror to work through.

The Black Hole-esuqe spin on the discomfort of youth has an admittedly interesting outlet in BSB: orphans are, we can suppose, experimented on in some fashion by some unknown agency, grafting absurd, uncontrollable powers onto them, like an even less desirably-powered set of Marvel Comics’ Morlocks – powers these kids can’t directly control, and perhaps aren’t even aware of. Revelations regarding how these powers came to be are kinda sorta explored during the series, but there’s a lot of oddball arcane stuff thrown in that begins to feel – once we’re past that two issue mark and nothing has really happened beyond seeing the powers and people dying as a results – rather like pointless, faux-complexity. I mentioned the third issue dropoff: it’s here where some of those editing issues feel more glaring (misplaced dialogue; action not connecting with the descriptions; characters referencing things we don’t see in the art but are seemingly supposed to), and the way Rosi is shuffling us between these orphans and their flashbacks becomes overwhelming: stop, and continue with one narrative before starting up another. The third and fourth issues also feel like they don’t have proper conclusions – halting almost in mid-conversation. This creates a very clunky flow that undermines tensions and deflates the mystery – you’ve put some pieces together on your own, and it just feels like we’re belaboring, and delaying the reveals.

Setting aside the storytelling issues that crop up, Ludovica Ceregatti’s art is, for the most part a good match, finding distinct personalities for our teens and a fair balance between loose stylization and detailing that makes the violence and surreal powers effective. However, what initially works in the first issue as sort of quick-cut editing style (in terms of camera work) is what later negatively affects the flow.

Yes, there’s a second series of BSB, but considering this as the first “arc,” it provides minimal payoff, and pushes any sense of conclusion of to – perhaps – that second series, to the extent that these issues, on their own, seem unfinished, like the story was just chopped up into 22-page segments instead of considered for individual comic books.