Let’s be to the point: Trust Fall #1 is stylish as all get out.
From its very first moments there’s a hypnotic level of artistry present in the page, here being used as a complete unit of visual spectacle with many smaller subdivisions. The way sounds and balloons interplay with the scene and the way that the primary narrative slides in and out of a larger frame, it’s clear that this is going to be a wild ride. And the second scene confirms it in a big way.
Here we meet Ash Parsons for real and it’s one of the most mesmerizing introductions I can recall. There’s an incredible slickness about her, the visuals, the dialogue that can’t be denied and, though the visuals can be a little overpowering, these five pages feel like the cold opening to an incredible blockbuster heist film.
Let’s step back.
I heard about this series for the first time at C2E2 this year. It was one of the highlights of Aftershock’s presentation. In my report of the panel, I summarized the book as follows:
Ash Parsons has lived her life as a member of a crime family, deeply tied to her family not only by secrets but by a genetic ability to teleport things, that is anything but herself. As such every heist is a trust fall where she’s utterly dependent on her family to get her out before she gets caught. However, one night they leave her, leading Ash to notice and pick away at the lies that make up her life.
That was a tremendously engaging premise and, combined with the jaw-dropping art and style contained within this book, there is a lot to like here. The problem is what’s not here: namely the elements I’ve highlighted, because none of that is explained in this first issue.
This is the first and most egregious example of Trust Fall‘s Achilles’ Heel: clarity.
As I said, it’s never stated that Ash can teleport things. Aside from a few pointed mentions of her “quirk” there’s no explanation of what it is, what it does, or what its limits are. And because the power and its ability to be used for larceny are only implied, there’s no sense of the delicate trust that Ash places in her family. That isn’t catastrophic in its own right. You could easily fill in the gaps in a later issue, however, it means that the structure that is so central to Ash’s story is not conveyed to the audience here, and that is a problem.
Christopher Sebela writes the story in a way that builds tension and piques the reader’s interest but rarely provides clear answers. There’s undoubted thought and artistry being put into the writing, but, while the structure of the story is very interesting in a theoretical way, it fails to support the sense of certainty that it seems he desires for the tale and makes it difficult to appreciate the information that is given to the audience. This issue also undercuts Sebela’s character development, as we rarely have the context to understand what he’s telling us about Ash. I think that Ash is positioned to be a fascinating character, but I do have to say I think, because even after multiple readings, not everything has resolved out of ambiguity.
While there’s a lot good to say about the art and design of this book, there are some reluctant criticisms. Much as I want to be swept away by the sheer force of the image, the, admittedly gorgeous, way that the book simplifies background detail and the claustrophobic compositions of the pages can often hide exactly who’s talking or distract from the crucial action of a panel. There are also moments where the composition is fine, but was seemingly conceived without consideration of how it would combine with the writing, leading to subjects of conversation not being in the scene or jarring transitions that confuse the number or identities of the players involved.
One of the elements that was most underplayed in Aftershock’s efforts to build hype for this series was the degree to which Ash has been lied to. While it was always clear that Ash would learn to challenge the ‘family first’ dogma of her upbringing, I did not realize how indoctrinated she had been when I picked up this book. Despite its minor appearance in the solicitation, this theme is obviously of paramount importance to Sebela, who paints a beautifully uncomfortable portrait of a girl in a cage she doesn’t even realize is there, or perhaps not realizing how many cages she’s in is more accurate. The work that Sebela is doing surrounding language and methods of control are wonderful and they provide a fantastic starting point for a story about seeing the world for the first time. There’s no denying that this is neither what readers were sold on nor was it conveyed in a way that allowed them to fully understand it all, but there’s a great deal of cleverness in this aspect of the book.
The methods of control are many and varied, but the most significant are Ash’s definitions. Through these repetitious and spiraling explanations of the world we discover the strange ideology Ash has been implanted with and the ways in which it aligns with and deviates from our own accepted reality. One thing that I don’t care for is the slick but curious format with which Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou delivers these definitions. You can practically hear a text tone as the individual captions sink into the background like a scrolling conversation, but, while this could reinforce how automated Ash’s perceptions are, it actually serves to distance this worldview from Ash by making it seem like something electronic and external, rather than an organic belief system.
While this feels like a clever idea that missed its mark, there is no denying that the lettering in this comic is incredible. So often lettering is treated as an invisible art, something that should only be noticed when it’s failed, but this issue immediately demonstrates why that’s an incomplete view of the art. Bouncing between the numerous forms of captions, blasting sound effects across the page, the letters in this book are as much a part of its visual identity as anything else and they hold to the laser focused attention to style that defines the book. Everything, down to the fonts and placements, has a rebellious edge to it and Elhaou deserves serious credit for making his mark so aggressively without distracting from the story.
We’ve already acknowledged that the art hits like a horse’s kick. The colors that Chris Visions brings to this book alone are worthy of serious praise, but there is a lot more than that that makes Trust Fall a visual feast. The layouts are complex and fascinating and the stylized reality that he brings to each page is arresting.
One thing I really like is the use of inset panels. It creates a dynamic, layered flow of time and characters frequently overflow the confines of boxes. It’s not a wholly original innovation, but it’s used in such a way that it draws attention to the stifling claustrophobia of the family, who lean more towards the angular, while Ash, herself, is more free-form.
Of course, the downside of all of this has already been mentioned. Visions puts so many ideas on the page that it becomes difficult to follow at times. It can even be hard to know who the cast of characters is. I, for one, was very unsure exactly how many siblings Ash had until late in the scene introducing them and if there was any indication that there were divisions within the final strike team I didn’t notice them. It’s hard to express just how unclear this book is and, while my sense is that it’s a problem that starts in the script, the art exacerbates every bit of it. The book looks so good and features so many clever flourishes of artistic language, but lack of clarity takes a toll from every great idea.
I do adore the way that color is used in this issue. With a palette heavily centered around magenta, orange, shades of robin’s egg, and punctuated reds, the whole issue is undeniably striking and the places where these colors are utilized make it even better. I love the way that orange eternally flickers in Henry’s sunglasses, how all but the faintest and sickliest greens seem to retreat from Lee, and how the core colors combine in the recounting of Ash’s daily schedule. The colors of this issue are not immune to the problems in legibility that plague this production from top to bottom, but their vibrancy also creates contrast that make certain moments easier to read as well.
Trust Fall #1 is a flawed debut. It’s an incredibly beautiful book but one that barely explains any of its key concepts and makes it hard to grasp that which is there. And that’s a shame because the concept, the ideas that seem to excite Chris Sebela the most, and the work of the artistic team are top notch. There really is a lot to like, but it’s hidden away behind a wall.
When it comes down to it, there really is no better word I can think of to describe this book than stylish – incredibly stylish. Everything, from the storytelling to the lettering to the dialogue to the colors to the layouts and on and on and on; it all has such an immense sense of style that its almost infectious. Unfortunately, for all that style, the substance cannot be accessed.
Trust Fall #1 is currently available in comic shops from Aftershock Comics.