Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Exists!: Soul Bound

This Exists! is a semi-regular column about particularly strange, ridiculous, and/or obscure comicbooks I happen to have stumbled across. 

Before I moved to Austin, me and the two guys with whom I was planning on moving came down to visit the city and see if it was really where we wanted to live. One of the most important and enjoyable parts of that visit was printing out a list of all the local comicbook stores (there's an impressive amount of them here) and visiting each of them to see what they offered and how they differed. Mostly, the only significant difference was the size of the building. In terms of current comics, almost everywhere we went had the same (very good) selection, and they pretty much all had sizable back issue sections as well. However, somewhere right in the middle of this tour of Austin shops there was a place that had a single, sparsely covered shelf right by the exit with locally-produced comicbooks. I wish so much that I had paid closer attention to which store it was, because in the three-plus years I've lived here I have never again found that local comics shelf, and the longer I go without seeing it the more I suspect that, wherever it was, it has since been removed. Regardless, it seemed silly to come to a city for the sole purpose of feeling it out as a place to live, be offered comicbooks created and published locally, and not go home with them, so I picked up a copy of each of the two series that sat so alone on this particular shelf. One of them was a strange western I can't remember the exact title of, which I read once that day and never returned to. The other, though ultimately not significantly better than the western, was an unexpectedly interesting and enjoyable comic called Soul Bound #1.
I'm not even entirely certain what the book is about. There is a family of what seem to be gods, two parents and their countless children, who I guess interact with the normal people of the world with some regularity. They are also trying to destroy "the blade," which they sometimes refer to as an "elios," but neither of these things are explained in any detail. What the blade is and why it needs to be destroyed remains a mystery, and so do the exact powers of these apparent deities, as well as their goals and backgrounds. Indeed, we get only the sketchiest and most basic bits of world building in Soul Bound #1. For example, each of the children gods are told to choose their avatars, and there is some mention of these avatars having powers of their own, but what they can actually do, what purpose they serve, and why they're needed at all never comes to light. The most we learn is that avatars are selected from dead humans, which is shown to us in the final four pages and acts as a sort of half-assed semi-cliffhanger for this debut issue (which I believe, based on what I can find online, was the only issue ever produced).
So there's not a lot of information provided, or even that much characterization. We learn that the young gods, or at least two of them, are pretty typical petulant children, disobeying their parents with dire consequences and then desperately hurling excuses for their behavior to avoid blame. The parents, meanwhile, are similarly archetypal, delivering threats of taking away their children's powers and/or turning them into mortals much the same way a real-world parent might cut off a child from TV for a week. It's not a bad relationship between parents and kids, it's just not all that fresh or original, especially with the dialogue never quite feeling genuine.
All of this kind of weak, vague material, though, is in the latter half of the comic. The opening sequence is a near-silent 15 pages, and it is this fast-paced beginning that really captured my attention when I first read Sould Bound #1, and it's the reason I've ever bothered to revisit it since then. We follow two of the young gods as they battle each other mid-air, tearing through a village full of normal humans and leaving utter destruction and widespread death in their wake. As their fight progresses, the book takes several pauses to turn away from the combatants and zoom in on the everyday people whose world is being devastated because of these immature immortals. And there is just something that has always appealed to me about this kind of story, examining the realistic and terrifying consequences of a world where superpowered beings can and do directly affect the lives of regular people. There is a large part of me that actually wishes Soul Bound #1 was just that and nothing more, that the entire issue was one long fight between these kid gods with breakaway moments where we see the consequences and immense collateral damages caused by their foolish brawl. As soon as the fight is stopped and the real plot of the book begins, things become a bit dull and confusing and slow, but those first 15 pages (and particularly the initial six pages without any dialogue whatsoever) are a fun if simple way to look at a concept I've always found interesting.
Of course, there are plenty of bigger-name, better-produced comicbooks that have explored these ideas, be it superheroes or gods or something in between messing up the lives of the non-powered masses, but even if it is somewhat familiar, I appreciate the approach of Soul Bound #1. It dives head first into the chaos and destruction without any kind of lead-in or introduction, which makes it all feel more immediate and urgent and real. If this was the kind of thing that actually occurred in our world, I imagine this suddenness and lack of warning would be a very big, very scary part of it. So throwing the reader into the thick of things helps us to empathize with the victims of this immortal boxing match, even if we don't yet know the hows, whys, and wheres of what we're reading. It's a shame that things slow so significantly from there and never pick back up, because I'd like to love this comicbook from the city I call home, and instead all I can manage is to feel a lackluster appreciation for having found it at all.

SIDE NOTE: Neither the website for the publisher, Electric Chinchilla Comics, nor the printer, Dark Phoenix Printing, seem to be active anymore. Also, the 800 number listed for Dark Phoenix on the back cover now belongs to something called National Annuity and Life Sales. I do recommend calling it after hours though, when the message says only, "Thank you for calling for free information." Free information? That's worth its weight in gold!

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