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Meraki

Meraki: Descent To The Underworld
M K Palmer, writer
Minh Hang, artist
Taylor Esposito, letterer
$4.99 digital / $7.99  print /36 pages
Alopix Productions

Welcome to Balen, a world filled with fantastic creatures and humans who worship Greek gods who created all of it. Two centuries have passed since Athena mysteriously introduced genetically enhanced people into Balen and it’s three of these humans which are the central characters in M K Palmer’s* debut issue. Thunder is impulsive, resourceful, and very fleet with a penchant for storytelling. The strapping Mino is a collector of charms (and perhaps magic practitioner) with keen insight into the gods and their ways. Psi is a warrior and leader of the group and has the strongest connection to the deities with Ares as her patron. Did I say three? Make that four with Fylax the scrappy cat-bird chimera.

Palmer took a fairly condensed approach in writing in order to cover a lot of territory in 32 pages. The story opens when a ceremony to elevate Avis and Ada, two daughters of Zeus, to a new status is interrupted by a possessed Hestia delivering a dire prophecy about the girls. The prediction enrages Zeus and several of the attending gods devise a plan to thwart the forecast. The plan involves obtaining the blood of Cronus to protect the girls. Of course, there’s a hitch. None of the gods may venture to Tartarus and must send a human in their place. Enter Ares with Hades in tow to propose a mission to save Avis and Ada. Ares approaches his acolyte Psi who is in the company of compatriots Thunder and Mino. Only Psi is chosen for the quest though she’s unpredictably joined on her mission by Thunder and Fylax and the adventure in Tartarus doesn’t let up till the very last page!

In a press release from June 2016, Palmer notes her desire for female heroes who are cunning, brave, and skillful. Palmer made certain to fulfill that vision with Psi and place her firmly in the strong female protagonist category. That isn’t to say Psi is perfect because she isn’t. When Psi and her male companions first appear they’re making their way to a temple to give an offering. Her deep respect for the gods is evident thanks to an exchange with an agitated man that takes place moments before she agrees to Ares and Hades’ mission. Psi is strong willed but Palmer put her to the test as Descent to the Underworld is as much a psychological journey for her as it is a heroic quest for her and Thunder as they face perils and challenges reminiscent of trials of Greek myth themed movies (for me that means the Harryhausen movies and Clash of the Titans) at every turn as they venture towards their goal in the underworld. A horrible incident involving children from Psi’s past becomes a painful encounter in the underworld that lifts a veil from her mind and propels her onward with even greater determination towards achieving the mission with which Ares tasked her: a face off with the Titan Cronus, god of time. By the ending though Psi has undergone a significant change in her belief system and a shocking action on her part alarms the generally laid back Thunder.

At a deceptively idyllic location in the underworld, Psi nearly succumbs to a trio of otherwordly sirens. This scene is important in that it establishes the strong female protagonist is a lesbian and this is an accepted fact judging from Thunder’s lack of reaction. Her status as leader and a warrior isn’t the least diminished in Thunder and Mino’s eyes. The encounter, eerily rendered by artist Ming Hang, makes me suspect that love is prominently missing from Psi’s life. After watching the first Meraki video and info on the site and front/ back matter in the comic my hunch is that Palmer, possibly riffing off some segments of ancient Greek culture, has made Balen a society in which people simply aren’t hung up in the least about sexuality like so many people are in our world. We’ve seen variations of this laissez faire attitude in comics here and there before and it’s even more welcome in this new climate in America we find ourselves in. And I wouldn’t mind if Thunder weren’t straight either!

Minh Hang is an artist with whose work I’m unfamiliar. According to her Meraki bio, Hang received a degree in Industrial Art from Ho Chi Minh City’s University of Architecture and has worked for gaming companies and done illustrations. An internet search yields only a few examples of her other work, likely compounded by nearly all the search results being sites in Vietnamese and the artist sharing a name with a popular Vietnamese singer, which are illustrations for other Meraki characters (Jab, Kentra, and Kallos) to appear in future issues. There is a painterly quality on display in her work in Meraki, aided in good part by Hang doing double duty as the colorist. Her palette, ranging from moody blues and greens to vibrant reds to ominous purples and grays to somber earth tones, is very effective in bringing Palmer’s script to life. Her layouts are a mixture of grids typical of Western comics and pages of angled panels denoting space or emotion often seen in manga. Hang is also the colorist and a very painterly style is on display here.

I like when comics give me something beyond a plot or characterization to be curious about. Before starting to read I’d assumed Meraki was a made up name for one of the characters but that proved to be wrong. I didn’t have to look hard to find the answer. On the back cover Palmer explains that the concept of meraki, a Greek word that translates to the idea of putting your heart and soul into a creation, was a touchstone for her while working on the project. The word “mou” which Thunder uses several times after names translates as a term of endearment, something along the lines of my dear or my love.

Readers who like strong female characters, Greek mythology, fantasy and sword and sorcery, and world building concepts should check out Meraki. Visit the Meraki site where you can learn more, buy the debut issue, and find the Kickstarter for the next issue and watch a video!

*Please note that the writer/ creator and the reviewer are not related.

 

May 27, 2020
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