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TRoOB: Air
device
jducoeur
A number of good miniseries have ended in the past few weeks. All have been "graphic novels" in the true sense: not just appendages to ongoing comics, but well-contained stories in their own right, and all are quite good. So it's time once again to pull out The Review of Obscure Books, and talk about stuff worth reading. First up is Air, written by G. Willow Wilson with art by M. K. Perker, published by Vertigo.

Wilson first made her mark a couple of years ago with the graphic novel Cairo, and it established her style: magical realism (realistic fantasy?) centered on slightly messed-up but sympathetic female protagonists, in a modern world that turns out to have wonders lurking beyond darkened doorways. The style sounds like urban fantasy, in the way that a third of the SCA can be described as, "y'know, he's got glasses, a beard and a ponytail". But it has neither the self-important darkness that one strand of urban fantasy affects, nor the obsession with the usual fantasy tropes of vampires, werewolves and elves. She instead draws from a broader palette, mixing ancient mythologies with her own wild imagination and a slightly melancholy but generally optimistic outlook.

Cairo was built on the mythologies of the Middle East, ranging from ancient Egypt through Islam. Air, by contrast, uses the mythologies of the modern world, and specifically the little-considered mystique of the most modern of devices: the airplane. Our heroine is Blythe, a stewardess with just one small problem: she has a paralyzing fear of heights. That turns out to be the least complicated part of her life, though, as she gradually learns the secret history of the 20th century: a story where the mundane art of traveling through the air is just part of the quest to understand the ancient Mayan secrets of how to bend space and time. Blythe learns the art of the Hyperpract, and along the way wends her way into so many time paradoxes it would make even JMS' head hurt.

It's a delightful story, and every bit as much a romance as an adventure, as her life increasingly intertwines with the mysterious Zayn, and they slowly learn everything about each other. Lighter in tone than the average Vertigo story (while there are dangerous excursions, one never gets that sort of overwhelming gloom that is fashionable nowadays), it manages to pull in figures ranging from Jules Verne (whose history of Blythe's life winds up a significant MacGuffin) to Amelia Earhart (one of the great Hyperpracts) as significant characters.

The story was told as a mid-length maxiseries (24 issues -- and when did that become just "mid-length"?), and I assume that it is being released as collections. It's not quite as strong as Cairo, simply because the story is necessarily not as tight, but it's a fun read with some genuinely new fantasy ideas. Too much of fantasy has become sterile, recycling and remixing the same ideas over and over; Wilson is one of those authors who is breaking new ground and exploring in the best fantasy traditions. I give it a strong B+: good stuff from an up-and-coming writer who I plan on following.
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There are three extant collections, covering 1-15. The most recent was out in June, so presumably there are one or two more volumes coming soon.


Is there any evidence that this was actually intended as a limited series, rather than an ongoing one? It wraps up fairly well, but also (to my mind) fairly abruptly.

No clear evidence, but that's typical of Vertigo: most of their series are limited, and many were obviously intended to be in retrospect (heck, I pegged 100 Bullets at 100 issues right at the mid-point, just from pacing), but the ones over 12 issues rarely advertise themselves as such. Some of that is probably them leaving their options open, but I suspect that some is just messing with the readers' minds, and not telegraphing how close we are to the end.

(Ex Machina is actually another good example: I had pegged that as 50 issues about a year out, but they didn't actually admit it until around issue 47.)

I didn't find the ending terribly abrupt: it's true that it could have run longer, but IMO probably would have worn out its welcome if it had gone too much further. It did feel like it could have used an additional 1-2 issues for the denouement, but I'm not sure that that's anything more than a journeyman writer who is still learning how to tell a long-form serial...

Fair points. The fact that Ex Machina was limited, however, *was* pretty clearly foreshadowed in issue 1.

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