The Family Trade #4
Story: Justin Jordan, Nikki Ryan
Art/Cover: Morgan Beem
Publisher: Image Comics
Review by Sean Frankling
The Family Trade is Justin Jordan and Nikki Ryan’s steampunk tale about Jessa, a teen thief, spy, and (only sometimes) assassin. Jessa works for a shady organization called The Family, who keep political balance on a drifting aquatic city, The Float.
The Family Trade #4 is heavy on exposition, as protagonist Jessa Wynn and her accomplice Ri undergo separate interrogation by two of The Family’s factions. While the dialogue does keep things moving along, all the explanation might seem to bog the issue down a little. At least it definitely would if not for Beem’s subtle attention to the detail to expressions and mannerisms in each scene. As a result, the comic isn’t afraid to spend frames on small movements, like a character rolling her eyes or carefully picking a pocket.
This expressive and subtle action pays off with finely crafted tension. For example, the uncomfortable power imbalance in a room full of grown men standing over a teenage girl tied to a chair. The overall effect is an intimate, cinematic feel, and it lets the creators control the tone of scenes that other comics might fill with cut-and-pasted duplicate panels (*cough* Mister Miracle *cough*).
The team’s combined work is enough to carry us between the issue’s book-ending fight scenes, which are where the comic really takes flight. The dynamic framing and careful attention to individual movements give the fights a kinetic, visceral motion. This sense of motion and carefully planned scene geography captures something between a bar brawl and a high-flying swashbuckler with each blow. The meticulous world building even shines through in the fight-scenes. In what other comic would you see a steam-punk vape pipe used to fake a fire?
The ultimate direction of the plot is still unclear. The revolutionary conspiracy centers around a plan to supplant the Float’s aristocratic council with a self-made entrepreneur turned ideologue politician. As a result, the story started out looking like a fairly standard cautionary tale about the dangers of selecting rulers based on populism and xenophobia, but it’s starting to take on a more complex shape. As Jessa exposes corruption and intrigue within the Family, it’s no longer clear exactly who are the good guys. That said, I’m pretty sure we’re still supposed to see the Trump analogy as the bad guy. Jordan’s commentary on the issue promises that Jessa is about to discover that she lives in a time that demands change. We’ll have to wait until the next issue to find out what kind.
Check it out. The Family Trade #4 would be a straight-up buy if we were just talking about action scenes and compelling world-building. However, Jordan and Ryan are building some complex political themes into this story and it remains to be seen how well they’ll tie them together going forward.