Created by: Zack Giallongo
Published by: First Second
ISBN: 1596435518 (Amazon)
I used to be pretty athletic. Hiking, skimboarding, boogieboarding, skateboarding, running, jumping, destroying things that weren’t my body. It was an awesome time to be alive. I was reckless and wild and harboured little care for decisions that entailed in some form or other the principal question of How much is this going to hurt? Twenty years later, nearly every activity I choose to engage revolves distinctly around how much discomfort or outright pain the activity might incur. Because unfortunately, all those wonderful things I could do eventually seemed focused on a single goal: destroying things that were my body.
This isn’t a picture of my body exactly, but perhaps consider it a rough approximation.
In my early-to-mid twenties, miscalculation and overestimation brought me injury after injury. Head injuries, neck injuries, back injuries. Ankles, shoulders, fingers, hands, knees, groin. Injuries so far as eyes could see and injuries in dark places hidden by layers of flesh and sinew. I was used to healing quickly and so used to returning to activity quickly, sometimes even instantly. As I grew older, the pace of my healing slowed but my habits didn’t care and so I bounced back from my wounds too quickly and, being off-balance, slow, and in a body that wasn’t one-hundred-percent operational, I compounded my injuries. The fallout of course is that now, so many years later, I live in near constant pain. From ankles that sprain and swell while Facebooking to a back that cannot survive a sneeze to shoulders that cannot throw a tennis ball overhand. Sitting on the ground for a half hour will ruin me for a week. Rolling over in bed means waking again for the tenth time in half as many hours. Fascinating, I know.11A particularly bitter irony is that I still subconsciously think of myself as an athlete. Playing with my kids, I still daily overextend myself without thinking. Even in the midst of incredible pain, I’ll thoughtlessly grab my daughter and flip her up high into the air, knowing that she loves it. Never mind that I won’t be able to move an hour later.
The saving amusement here is that I’m consistently able to quote to my wife from The Fantastic Mr. Fox: Do you think of me as an athlete? I think of me as an athlete, but I don’t feel like you think of me as an athlete.
Never fails to lighten our mood about the whole thing.
The point of all this is to say that when I was younger, I wanted to be Broxo or Zora. Now though, I am content merely to take in their vagabond adventures. Even though half my concern for them is tied to how badly I would hurt the next morning had I the need to sleep in the conditions that make up their daily ritual.
The titular Broxo (of Zack Giallongo’s Broxo) is not the main character of his own book. That distinction goes to Zora, a warrior cut more from the mold of Miyazaki princesses than from Disney’s pampered-chef variety. She’s no fan of slumming in the wastelands, but she’s doing her bit to support her family’s vision of uniting the five clans under a single purpose—and because that end requires means so unappetizing as crawling the wastes, that’s what she will do. She’s pretty badass like that. Plus, she has awesome little decorative wings on the side of her headband and she’s easily the first character I’ve ever seen pull that one off. (Sorry Captain America. Sorry Hermes. Sorry Hawkman.) She’s also smart, tenacious, and maybe not so competent with a sword as the loner she meets, a boy king named Broxo.
Really, it’s hard to argue, even if he has worse skinned knees
than my son. Who wobbles when he walks.
Broxo opens with Zora cresting a plateau in search of the Peryton clan so that she might deliver the news of unification, that all the people of the Penthos might once more be as one. She finds instead a pretty shabby place, a land mostly of gloom and murk—deserted save for a small few inhabitants, each with their own things going on. One of these is Broxo, and the remainder of the book dwells on their interactions and adventures. These, despite their clash of cultures and the gathering darkness, are a joy to follow.
I’ll tell you this now: the fact that there isn’t presently a sequel to Broxo rushing from the printers to the publisher on its way to a speedy distribution breaks my heart. Because I want more of these two. I want more adventures that will make me hurt all over vicariously (even if the characters themselves seem immune to my own current frailties). Giallongo has charmed me.
A large part of Broxo's depth is founded on its principal two characters. Both Zora and Broxo are mixes of strengths and weaknesses, a combination whose powers come to outweigh its inadequacies. Zora is brave but foolhardy and reckless. She’s good with a bow and okay with a sword. She’s driven by her ambitions but is a bit ethnocentric, leaning on the belief that her civilization (the one doing the uniting) is the superior and that what’s left of Broxo’s betrays barbarian savagery. To usurp Avatar, she’s got a lot to learn before she’s ready to unite anybody.
Broxo is himself a strong fighter, wily, and at home with the dangers of the plateau, but he’s ignorant of many things. He’s weighed down by a history he only partly knows and a past he’s largely forgotten. He’s far from socialized and despite his guileless overtures, he trips a number of social blunders that make working together with Zora a difficulty. He has a larger responsibility than he’s aware and swaggers a bit more than he deserves.
That ma-ha-jick moment!
The beautiful thing about Broxo is watching these two strong figures bend and snap and bend again in order to preserve their lives, understand each other, and ultimately evolve closer to that personal state that was previously sequestered in the realm of Mere Potential. As in any realistic growth situation, there’s friction and forgiveness. It’s a good and well-thought-out relationship and not one I expected to find in what is essentially a Conan-esque tale of adventure, fantasy, and zombie apocalypsis.
Though threats come from several quarters and are due several motives, the most overt trouble comes from the Creepers. Also called the Ancestors, these undead roam across the plateau bringing doom where they tread. Their existence is new to Zora, so their plight on the plateau occupies a kind of facile mystery element in the story. They are the bow that Giallongo ties to neatly draw together so many of his narrative threads. That they’re well-conceived saves us from feeling that we’re reading one more overcooked zombie book in what has been something of a decade-long glut of the material. That they’re not just shambling once-deads is important and for me was first underscored when Broxo has to fend off a child Creeper. It’s a good story moment.
Giallongo’s art is lively and his figures well-composed. His staging, whether we consider his characters, their actions, or his landscapes, is immaculately designed. We’ll often read praise of certain novels or films in which the artist so invests the creative impulse into depicting the location that the location itself becomes a character. Paul Auster’s New York City in City of Glass and its sequels. Sergio Leone’s Old West in Once Upon a Time in the West. Et cetera. Giallongo does this very thing with his depiction of the Peryton’s plateau. Its very anatomy tells you who it is and alludes to the story it enfolds. I’m not sure it’s fair, but I couldn’t shake the sense that Giallongo is a man influenced by Miyazaki (as should we all be). Beyond the presence of his environments and some of his staging, many of Giallongo’s character designs may have fallen right out of, say, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. See? Check out this old lady:
I’m glad I read Broxo, even if I squirmed to see the conditions in which these characters relaxed. (It’s one thing to tread a stony path and another to lounge on it.) There was a time when I may have been able to keep pace with their antics, but that is a distant history. It hurts to be reminded of my decline over the years, but the relish with which Giallongo approaches his characters and their plight brings out the sunshine again. I wasn’t entirely truthful in my earlier stated desire for a sequel to Broxo. The truth is I want four. At least.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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