Sithrah vol. 2: Propositions – Jason Brubaker

5 out of 5

Dangit, Brubaker.  Here I was, sincerely expecting the second volume of Sithrah to devolve into sentimental, Christ-themed preaching-with-pretty-pictures – thus allowing me to tsk-tskfully clear my shelf of it and volume one – and instead I read one of the most page-turning graphic novels of the past year, with the “pretty picture” quality upped to a masterful synthesis of cinematic and comic styles.

My shelf remains stuffed.

As its been over a year since the last volume, I gave the first book a reread before diving in to volume two.  While I think I might have given it a more positive review now, I do agree with my main criticism of the opening feeling rather generic.  The storybook visual approach – text and full-bleed art, not panels and captions – I think egged me into approaching the read like a storybook, interposing some tropes onto it that weren’t necessarily explicit in the text, and maybe missing out on some of the nuance Brubaker slipped in.  This, blended with a character named Nirvana and a back page explanation from Jason that worried me that this was going to be a work (paraphrasing) ‘to prove himself worthy’ to god, further had me making assumptions.  Again, overall criticism valid, but going into it with my expectations adjusted made the overall read more intriguing.  It also helps to have a volume 2 to dive into right away.

Which, to be clear, still has some possible Christ lurking in the background.  I won’t go into a long rant on where / how I feel religion can be used in entertainment, but I’ll state my bias – that I’m not religious in any way – and my general feeling that you shouldn’t preach unless your audience knows that’s what they’re sitting in for.  The blurry line comes from how you want to make your allusions or communicate your morals: Certainly beliefs can and will inform one’s writing, I just don’t want to be pointed clearly down one road unless I’ve plucked the book or movie from the One Road department.  So there is influence and allusion here, for sure.   I am admittedly suspicious of the intentions, still, and would not be surprised if the next (or future) volumes direct things exactly the way I’m fearing.  But one step at a time; in volume 2, Brubaker is squarely on the side of fantasy, and of imagination, and the story morphs in organic yet surprising – and rewarding – ways.

Propositions opens by introducing us to Dino, who’s hiding from something in a library, his actions halted by a disembodied voice talking up some vaguery.  Just when we suspect that Sithrah volume 2 is going to take some type of anthology approach, Dino is stirred from this scene, recognizing it as a dream, awakening as the plane from volume one soars overhead.  Aiming for the crash, he runs into Vonna, and the duo’s travels to the landing site – for different reasons, of course, take up the bulk of the volume.  But along the way, Brubaker wends in some more information about Sithrah, some more hints about the nature of the world in which our tale takes place, and some further context for the dream which opened things.  To account for this extra story-izing, volume 2 is about 1.5 times the size of volume one, though given that its illustrated with big and bold full panel-spreads, it wont take you much time to experience it.  But that’s also because, as mentioned, it’s a page turner.  Both Vonna’s and Sithrah’s personalities feel much more realized, and Dino thankfully diverts from the rapscallion template his role would seemingly demand to quickly become a character of interest.  Plus the whole quest angle (get to the plane) gives the story a sense of urgency volume 1 lacked.

The artwork and presentation are simply stunning.  Brubaker’s Coffee Table Comics imprint produces a classy package: Cloth material around a sturdy hardcover with an embossed title and a color print over half the front; woven binding; thick pages; bold colors.  This style was in place for reMIND and the previous Sithrah book, but it still impresses.  And I feel like they cleaned up the logo some.  The interiors are an astounding balance between comic book timing and cinematic scope.  Brubaker’s Dreamworks experience is clear, as this is like reading an animates film, but at the same time, it feels more squarely like a comic than the previous book.  Its a unique balance that allows Jason to slip between text pages and full-bleed art and paneling.

Normally when I read something that I sense might go South later on, I enjoy it with reservations.  But the strength of this book is such that I was floored cover to cover despite those reservations.  I don’t care where it goes from here.  It can’t tarnish what an accomplishment this volume is on its own.