Penny Arcade isn't so much a comic as a nation state these days, incorporating the PAX conventions, the On The Rain Slicked Precipice of Darkness games and Paint the Line, an upcoming Expandable Card Game about global thermonuclear ping pong. They've also experimented with expanding their comics, running audition strips for two; Lookouts and Automata , a little while back. Both strips were so well received that they ran full story arcs with them and, not long after, Cryptozoic announced a series of six issue mini-series based on Lookouts. The book launched this week on Comixology and will launch in comic stores from August 29th and it's off to a hell of a start.
The Lookouts are an organization that serve as mediators between humans and the Eyrewood Forest, where the book is set. Their job ranges from healing creatures and disputes to hunting down and killing anything threatening a human settlement. The job, like the forest, is vast and the Lookouts recruit young. As a result, the main characters are a group of Lookouts who are starting out on their training. As they pass each test, they receive a badge and the quest for that badge, and what they learn on the way, will form the basis of each mini-series. It's a smart way of locking the viewpoints of the reader and the character together and it's also a very smart piece of long-form narrative structure, meaning we learn as they learn.
This first mini-series focuses on The Riddle badge, and sees the Lookouts tasked with defeating a Sphinx who has set up guard outside the village of Yarrow. The Sphinx is huge, beautiful and everyone who passes it must solve a riddle. Those that fail, die. This is an uncompromising world, one where violence is always just around the corner and McCool does a very good job of using their attitude towards that violence to distinguish the Lookouts. Dore is the bravest warrior in his whole cloak, Boli is small and all too aware of that and Lark is convinced that books hold the key to every problem. There are other characters in the group but these three, along with Samson, the group's quiet, adult leader, are the ones that stand out.
McCool's character work is where the book soars. The central question; what is the Sphinx doing there? is intriguing but McCool gets much more dramatic energy out of the interaction between the boys and a very loaded conversation with Samson and a superior. There are more dangers in the woods than just the creatures and the issue ends with a very clear implication that they are in as much danger from the agenda of the adults as they are from the creatures outside the village.
Mommaerts' art is a perfect fit for the book, open and friendly with a constant sense of motion to it, especially in the scenes involving the Lookouts. There's a strong sense of Mike Krahulik's style but it's an influence rather than an aspiration, something which informs and strengthen Mommaerts' art. His creature design is particularly strong with the Sphinx managing to be stylized, beautiful and threatening all at once.
Rounded out with an in-world excerpt from The Lookouts' Handbook, this is a really strong first issue. The writing is tight, incident heavy and gives the character's room to breathe whilst the art is a nicely handled mixture of threatening and welcoming. This is smart, character heavy that's all-ages suitable and if you like fantasy comics, you need to be reading it.
The Lookouts is written by Ben McCool, drawn by Rob Mommaerts, developed by Jerry Holkins, published by Cryptozoic, distributed by Comixology. 99c for issue 1.