2 out of 5
I should be taking into account two things here:
-That this is the first part of, I believe, a trilogy, and
-That this is from an era when a “cyber-novel released on the Internet” was a weird thing, and not just called a book
I can somewhat forgive the latter – although poorly handled tech talk always rankles – but the former isn’t really a justification for the structural disarray happening here.
The album is presented, mostly, as a psychoanalyst’s reflections upon a strange set of emails she starts to receive at the end of each month. While there are some details that don’t feel mentioned with much sense of relevance to our story (for example:that the emails come at the end of the month, on some non-existent dates like February 31st, is somewhat discussed, but very offhandedly), Yslaire’s almost exclusive use of blocks of text – our narrator’s thoughts – and images translates the book source to comic very effectively, especially given how the content of the emails tends to be photos, meaning this slots into the words and art concept of a comic pretty nicely.
The emails contain a 90s techno-babble secret link that kicks off a series of images which seem to both trace certain famous events over time, and also have some hinted at relevance to the narrator. While the historical angle feels like one of those mentioned weak details, and we’re given zero reason to care about our narrator’s personal ties to the content, that she approaches the emails analytically is interesting, allowing her to extrapolate a theory that these are shots from an angel’s point of view. Which seems silly, of course, but again, because it’s a psychoanalytic conclusion, we accept that she might mean that the photo taker intends that, while not explicitly stating it is an angel. It’s a good way to ground things.
The emails and photos keep coming, we learn a bit about our narrator’s past. Fine. Then, the literal last half of the volume is taken up by a flashback, which fills in all those past details. And it was at this point that I stopped caring. The structure is supposing story relevance when none of it has been earned; all we have by this point are some sort of strange emails, but those are floating completely unmoored to anything: That’s literally all we’ve had so far, are those messages, and someone’s remarks on them. And now we’re being told another story, without it being clear if we finished the first one. I understand they are linked, but my point is that the first story did not yet require the second story. And that the conclusion of story two ends up sucking out some of the mystery from story one anyway makes me wonder what the need is for a reader to continue on to the next volume.
Yslaire’s sketchy art blends the photo / digital sources without much discrepancy, thanks to some well-manipulated blending work and smartly muted colors. However, part of that “sketchy” is leaving some lines that ruin perspective unerased (lines defining structures, crossing through a landscape where it doesn’t make sense visually), and that’s an aspect that frustrates me in finalized art.
So, sure, the setup of Cloud 99 is somewhat dated, but an interesting setup is still produced. However, Yslaire’s questionable story arrangement sucks out a lot of the potential of that setup.