Writer: N.K. Jemisin
Artist: Jamal Campbell
Letters: Deron Bennett
Publisher: DC Comics (Young Animal imprint)
Part of DC’s tangential, off-kilter, and new-ish experimental ongoing imprint “Young Animal”, Far Sector is touted as a “mind-bending mystery at the edge of the universe”. As a far-flung sci-fi story featuring a brand new character of color, the fact that it takes place so remote from the rest of the DCU gives it a lot of leeway in being both a canonical tale and one isolated from all the drama and events happening in DC proper.
Let me prefix this review by stating that both the writer and artist are Nubian. N.K. Jemisin is the first African-American writer to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel for her sci-fi fantasy tale “The Fifth Season” and its sequels “The Obelisk Gate” and “The Stone Sky”. This is, to my knowledge, her first foray into comics. Canadian artist Jamal Campbell is best known for his innumerable comic covers for both Marvel and DC, and he’s also illustrated “Naomi” (2019), as well as DC’s “Justice League of America: Vixen Rebirth” (2017) and Marvel’s “Prowler” (2016).
I’d also like to highlight that to their credit, DC has been on a roll as of late introducing new (female) Nubian characters, such as Silencer (2018), Naomi (2019) and Keli Quintela/Teen Lantern (2019). The main character of “Far Sector” is just their latest addition, but the fact she is yet another Green Lantern kind of works against her as being derivative (we already have Teen Lantern and Jessica Cruz, and five other male GLs including John Stewart). It may have been better if her “outfit” drew from some other space-faring adventurer, or was a returning native.
Far Sector follows nascent Nubian ring-slinger Sojourner “Jo” Mullein, as she initially tries to solve a murder with deep social and political ramifications. The xeno-ecumenopolis she occupies is comprised of three cohabiting alien races who originate from the same solar system, and over the millennia, have integrated into a tentative pluralistic society. There are the Nah, Elven Nubians with dragon wings and tail; the sleek @At, a sort of digital beings in physical forms whose skin color variety feels lifted from Dreamwork’s “Trolls”; and the Keh-Topli, the most intriguing race, comprising of literal carnivorous plant-people. My biggest complaint actually with the set-up is the fact that all three races, though biologically diverse, are pretty much humanoid. Now the DCU and especially the microcosm of the Green Lantern lore are no strangers to outlandish alien designs and concepts. Furthermore, it’s hard to fathom than sentient species at the edge of the known universe would “evolve” to have a base human-structure/appearance. It was certainly an aesthetically pleasing choice rather than a practical one.
Story-wise, at least thus far, the dialog and pacing move at a brisk pace, with Jo being our narrator and audience proxy. To Nora’s credit, the world-building comes off very smooth and natural, forgoing the pitfalls of (shoehorned) exposition dumps that even some veteran comic writers struggle with.
The initial premise of a homicide whodunit with well-structured investigative procedurals is delectable for any fan of that genre; but things quickly derail into something far more abstract and nebulous in both scale and scope. Jo must now quell the escalating tensions and unrest before a potential “epidemic” breaks out, driving the fractured society to self-destructive civil war. As the narrative progresses, without much of spoilers, it touches on the issue of the “ethics of emotions” in societal harmony and synergy. This is a topic previously explored in the 2002 film “Equilibrium”, and much of that is reflected here. Its handled with such expert dexterity that it doesn’t come off as heavy-handed or cliché.
Issue #5 in particular deviates to focuses on Jo’s eventful backstory. She’s portrayed like the ultimate “overcomer”, culminating in yet another poignant (and very topical) moment in her life just before she is “chosen”. With so much crammed into her origin, Jo sadly became unbelievable to me at worst, and just a female John Stewart or Batwoman knock-off at best. Keeping one or two of those character building tragedies would have sufficed, but going for more than a trifecta of chips on her shoulders was a killing blow for me in terms of relating to her as a person after that, that I simply chose to ignore it completely going forward.
Personality-wise Jo is enjoyable and complex. She is neither totally obstinate and abrasive nor an indecisive push-over. She has a wide gamut of emotional variety rarely seen for an introductory character or story in comics. She’s mellow and approachable, yet strong in her convictions and compassion. There is also an assurity and yet at times confliction about her. Again, Jemisin’s pedigree as an award-winning sci-fi novelist shows; and I can only wish DC snags more of her caliber for future stories. I would also be remised if I didn’t mention that Jo is bi-sexual, and to my recollection DC’s first in a very long time (not counting John Constantine who is pansexual).
In terms of the other characters, it’s mainly the three representatives for the different races, who are all at arm’s length, and for good reason. Everyone has something to hide from Jo and each other, and it only builds the intrigue of the story. They also all have a “take” on Jo and how she should be treated (included or excluded). Marth of the Sea By the Wavering Dark Until the Sun Falls – just “Marth” (a Nah) – is the most accepting and the one given most focused on out of the triumvirate. It does help he’s a suave and handsome single Nubian male I suppose, and Jo being equally attractive in her own way.
With regards to the art, Jamal is masterful with lighting and vivid colors. Each page is crammed with so much bright particles, and exquisitely decorated that everything looks detailed, authentic and lived-in. His aversion to heavy shadows, in conjunction with the aforementioned, give everything a nice three-dimensional feel. As a cover artist, it definitely shows, as he sticks to large paneling and splash pages to superb effect, with the format never feeling stale. Jamal definitely love drawing hair-styles to say the least, and he loves drawing Jo in dynamic angles. He also gives each race a distinct aesthetic tone, playing into the uniqueness of each culture and their individual identity. Even went people are dressed the same, he goes out of his way to make everyone stand out. As a story that has an undercurrent of emotion, Jamal executes expressions expertly, that you can very well hear the tone of voice by the way people’s faces look. It is a true complement to the dialog.
At the half-way point, a disastrous event leaves our hero wondering how to proceed. She’s still an outsider and these people have pretty much existed this way for hundreds if not thousands of years. Reflecting much of what’s going on now, Jo too struggles with the realization that she may not be able to exact change in the entrenched alien zeitgeist.
As it stands, even with its few caveats, Far Sector is a story I’m willing to see to its conclusion and what life lessons Nora (through Jo) has in store for her commentary on a very philosophical topic. That, and to stare at more of Jamal’s art.
Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics or videogames. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and videogamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.