Sithrah vol. 5: Light City – Jason Brubaker

2 out of 5

I’m being mean, here.  This rating is more to capture my feeling on reading Sithrah as a series; that is, I’m admittedly disappointed by this volume in comparison to the preceding ones, even though I respect the seeming scope of what creator Jason Brubaker is trying to assemble, as well as the definite care put in to the construction of these hardcover collection and the artistry of Brubaker, plus his fellow colorist (Adrian Amarteifio) and 3D modeler (Oscar Campos).  If this was my one and only Sithrah exposure, I would very likely be wowed by this presentation, and encouraged by all the various plot concepts thrown about to check out the rest of the series.  But: as a continuation of what’s come before, as well as with reMIND in (no pun intended) mind, Light City is doubling down on the things I’ve been on the fence about: too many ideas without a sense of grounding or followthrough; pacing / page construction that seems more inspired by Brubaker’s animation roots than something more suited for comics.

I did notice, for the first time, a mention that this book is a ‘compilation’ that originally appeared online, which does count for some of the pacing issues – if this was constructed in weekly installments or whatnot, it can account for the way scenes hiccup from one to the other.  However, my issue with the flow is at a higher level than that, with Brubaker’s focus in individual panels occasionally misleading (highlighting a detail that doesn’t have immediate story relevance), and a sense of buildup and reveal that generally undermines its own impact.  To give one example, a nurse is introduced which is clearly a robot – robot font; multiple lookalikes show up; they’re “numbered” – only to treat the actual showing of the robot iterations as a shock.  Extend this sensibility to how the dialogue and general story progression is applied, and Sithrah becomes a rather unclearly targeted story that limply holds your hand while also urging to run ahead and point out upcoming wonders.

Volumes 1, 3, and 4 were able to keep a more general sense of focus thanks to mostly single settings, with volume 2 being our first step toward expanding the world-building in a way that felt exciting, but instead of developing those initial ideas, subsequent books just kept adding to them: adding more terminology, more concepts.  And volume 5 completely hops over the threshold, rolling out something new every few pages, but in a way that doesn’t feel firmly defined enough.  Brubaker might have his whole universe mapped out somewhere, but it’s not coming across on the page, unfortunately; rather, it feels like sketches that we’re hurried through.  This goes hand in hand with the way the setpieces keep changing; we’ve arrived at Light City – that’s the crux of this issue, Nonna’s search for her father in said City – but it’s too big to tackle all at once, and so we speed through it.  What should be an incredibly emotional, satisfying plot point, then, when Nonna finds her dad, ends up oddly feeling minor, and relatively unrealistically responded to by the characters.

Again: the book looks great.  And my rating is way harsher than the “reality”, as Jason’s storybook style (some text, some comic book paneling) is still fun to read with very expressive characters and fun designs.  The story is ultimately stacking up unsatisfactorily, to me, and the criticisms that I’ve been focused on have grown, hence my especially negative reaction.