Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Jakub Rebelka
Letterer: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
A review by Nico Sprezzatura.
Alternate worlds are one of the most evergreen concepts you’ll find in science fiction. Sometimes they’re not so different from our own, other times they’re distinctly unrecognizable. It’s well-trodden ground for the Marvel and DC Universes by this point, but there’s plenty of creator-owned works in comics that play with the idea. Steve Orlando & Jakub Rebelka’s Namesake, collected this week by BOOM! Studios, is the latest example.
Every seven years, Earth merges with Ektae, a world whose economy is driven by magic and alchemy. Jordan Molossus is a young man who has parentage from both. What happens when you belong to two worlds, neither of which wants to claim you as their own? When Jordan seeks to spread the ashes of his late fathers on Ektae, he experiences the conflict firsthand.
If that sounds like a whole lot of something to you… well, that’s because it is.
For a comic that was originally published as a four-issue mini, Namesake is deceptively dense. It’s not an easy read – not necessarily because it’s difficult material or hard to follow, but because it demands your complete and utter attention. Like many other high-concept sci-fi tales, Namesake has a very specific set of rules and concepts that you’ll either jump on-board with immediately, or be quickly bewildered by. I originally read Namesake as it was being released monthly, and while I enjoyed it, I definitely felt like it should’ve been published as a graphic novel instead. Orlando’s last creator-owned work, Virgil, was a one-and-done OGN, and its fast-paced momentum would’ve been lost had it been published piecemeal. Some stories just aren’t meant for the standard monthly model of comic book publishing, and I’m not sure Namesake benefited from being released that way.
While still dense and filled with outlandish ideas, the collected edition of Namesake makes for a better reading experience. The lack of a waiting period between chapters makes it easier to recall the world of the story and how it functions, allowing you to focus on the plot. It’s a very, very weird little comic, and that probably won’t be for everyone, but it has a certain charm.
Namesake is absolutely catered toward those who –much like myself– enjoy writer Steve Orlando’s work. His work-for-hire stuff at DC (Midnighter, Supergirl) has been some of the superhero genre’s finest in recent vintage, while his creator-owned stuff (the aforementioned Virgil, Undertow) are equally great. In the context of his overall work, Namesake veers more closely to something like Undertow’s esoteric world-building than the straightforward, action-oriented plotting of Midnighter or Virgil. What Namesake has in common with each of those comics however, is the common theme of identity, and how a person finds their place in the world. Because Jordan claims parentage from both Earth and Ektae, he’s seen as a pariah by both. In our world of conflicting identities and intersectionality, it’s an effective parallel.
One other thing I really like about Namesake is its laissez-faire attitude towards sexual orientation. Jordan has two daddies, but it’s more uproarious to the societies of Earth and Ektae that they’re not of the same world. Jordan himself also has a boyfriend, and there’s absolutely no angst because of it. With Namesake, Orlando has set up a fictional universe that’s pretty laudable – and rare.
Namesake’s art is similarly busy, but rewarding to those who soak in it. I’ve never encountered artist Jakub Rebelka’s work until this series, but it certainly put him on my watchlist. There’s a lot happening on each page throughout, but it never feels like too much for the eye to process. Rebelka add’s to Orlando’s frenzied script through varied layouts that never really make you feel too comfortable. Some pages only have two simple box panels, others have fragmented edges that meld together in mosaic-like fashion. And there’s always so much detail in these panels that cause you to linger in a way that some comics don’t. Plus, the colors are gorgeous. Letterer Thomas Mauer had his work cut out for him here, and he translates Orlando’s script to page admirably. Like I said, Namesake is dense, and a poor lettering job could’ve made it an unpleasant reading experience.
Despite its relative inaccessibility, Namesake offers some dense (but rewarding) science fiction in the shape of a beautifully-illustrated graphic novel.