A young woman named Wake wanders the countryside in a nomadic self-imposed exile, relentlessly hounded by a destructive sky-bound entity known only as the Eye that annihilates any town she stays in for too long. After being captured by slavers and taken to the city of Stratum, she is soon forced to take on a less passive role in her own life and use her link to the Eye so it can be stopped.
After a suitably vague prologue, Vessels pulls you in further with the mystery of Wake. Her origin unknown and a broken chain fastened to her ankle the only clue to her past, she exists as a blank slate with the potential to be the saviour or the ruination of the realm, depending on how events play out. Joining her are Mind Keeper G’Dala – one with the power to glimpse into the future by entering a realm between asleep and awake – and snarky thief Marillon, who with a tongue as sharp as her blades means she will likely become a favourite among readers, while the anachronistic vernacular of her speech makes for a jarring but amusing contrast to the flowing prose of Wake’s internal monologing or G’Dala’s expository pronouncements.
At a base level Vessels could seem like just another trip into a generic fantasy world. Quasi-medieval mythic realm; fighter/mage/thief power trio of protagonists; dark and otherworldly forces gathering for nebulous reasons, it all appears fairly standard at first glance. But as the story progresses it becomes clear it’s something else entirely.
It’s stated from the outset that the series revolves around the theme of dreams, but it’s so much more than a trippy warping of the abstract everyday that such a concept is often portrayed as. We are taken deep into a world of such untapped potential, surreal power and mutable reality, that when the titular quintet of hunters are introduced in the final pages and revealed as the kind of chimeric monstrosities you might encounter in a Clive Barker novel, they don’t seem the least bit out of place.
Given the advance notice of the comic’s themes, you’ll quickly develop a fair few ideas of where the plot might be heading, with one possibility being so clear it’s all but explicitly stated by the issue’s end. However, in doing so it becomes replaced by the far more interesting question of what this actually means for the story. As well as an apparent intent to dissect the true nature of reality, the story also contains various philosophical undertones referring to psychological constructs and the collective unconscious, which craftily allows for the inclusion of basic genre archetypes while simultaneously absolving the comic of their use.
Although it was only a Kickstarter stretch goal that allowed the comic to be full colour, it was clearly always envisioned to be so. A heady chromatic blaze saturates every panel, each a meticulous composition of glowing light, creeping shadow and dazzling hues, all against a sky of smouldering flame giving way to the rich purple of deep night. The palate’s lush vitality infuses a hyper-reality to the sprawling dreamscape, forging a land authentic in composition while fantastical in realisation.
Vessels is a captivating start to an intriguing mystery that’s it’s all but guaranteed to get far stranger before any answers are had, and with an opening this compelling that’s quite an exciting thought.
VESSELS #1 / AUTHOR: DAVE COOK / ARTIST: RAFAEL DESQUITADO JR, DENNIS LEHMANN / PUBLISHER: CARD SHARK COMICS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW