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The Lost City Of Heracleon

Bruce Livingstone, writer
Mike Willcox, artist & book design
Boom! Studios
$26.99 print/ $20.99 digital

If not for the modern conveniences like computers and web search browsers, The Lost City of Heracleon could pass for an adventure from the golden age of comics. It’s fast-paced adventure with occasional lapses of logic, but that’s not the point. The energy of the piece keeps you pulled along, accepting all the absurdities and plot jumps. 

The artwork feels like golden age adventure comics and Russian constructivist art got married and had offspring. The figures are occasionally awkward with a slight disregard for anatomy, but the backgrounds and devices use design elements that make nearly every page a poster. There is copious use of thick blacks that set off the figures in an almost woodblock print style. The flat colors of the limited palette is what most makes me think of constructivist art, but the palette does change through the book—it’s not all reds, blacks, greys, and yellows, but you seldom get more than four colors to any one page. It’s an engaging and unusual choice for storytelling. 

The story itself is a clever nod to old-fashioned adventure stories. Two boys, Lou and Shiro, play with a ham radio set that belongs to Lou’s grandfather, against explicit orders, and pick up a signal from Steward Stuart, who goes by the name Captain Shorty. The captain is in a submarine just offshore and calls the boys to an adventure but they must leave now. There’s diving gear waiting for them on the dock. It’s now or never! 

Of course they go (or else there would be no story) and one improbable turn after another unfolds. There’s a device, the Codex, that may as well be a prototype for a Green Lantern ring—it creates anything our heroes need. They travel across space, dimensions, and time. There is a great war (somehow meant to bring lasting peace—the time travel has a similar goal) and a confrontation with gods. All this in pursuit of their main goal—to change a major turning point in 20th Century history. It would be easy to criticize the story on these improbabilities, but the characters’ banter and general breakneck pace leave you no time to think too much about any of it. As I said, this could have been written in the 1930s for a pulp magazine. 

One way that it is old-fashioned, and not necessarily in the best way, is how male-centered it is. All the main characters are men. The main female character appears for a very few pages and is a demi-goddess who gives Lou a powerful gift to assist him in their struggles. The miraculous Codex has a female persona, a nod to Amazon’s Alexa, perhaps. There are a few warrior women, not necessarily human. Otherwise, we have three generations of males, without any mention of mother or grandmother, and male friends and warriors and antagonists. Even the scene with Greek gods has only Zeus and Heracles. It’s in keeping, perhaps, with the father/son dynamics, but that felt the most odd in a 2020 book. 

I’ll also mention one convention that amused me, even as it took me right out of the narrative. There are no “bad words” in the book, no f-bombs or even “hells.” But every once in a while a character will exclaim something like, “What the curse!” or “How the curse?” It reminds me of when superheroes used to exclaim “Blast!” only this is a little more on the nose.

In the end, I’d say it’s a book for specific if hard-to-define tastes. If a genuinely clever take on old sci-fi and fantasy tropes. And if wood block print/workers’ rights posters used to tell a story sound interesting to you, you should definitely pick it up. Where the plotting fails in originality or logic, Livingstone makes up for in pacing and general cleverness. It’s not quite like anything I’ve read in a long time.

Neil Ellis Orts is a writer and performer in Houston, Texas. He recently published an appreciation for the Gay League on the Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide Blog. His novella, Cary and John, is available for order from your favorite bookseller.

Look for The Lost City of Heracleon at your local comic shop or bookstore.  It can also be ordered with the ISBN code – 9781684155644.  The book may also be ordered from Amazon.

September 8, 2020
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