Kassie, Max, Tyler, and Tsang are childhood friends spending an afternoon messing around in Max’s attic, avoiding the tense conversation among their parents downstairs. From a trunk of books, Tsang picks up a red book with a simple “TF” embossed on the cover, and finds that reading aloud from it transports the kids to another realm. After reading from The Fiction, the kids find that they can travel freely into any book they choose and adventure across worlds with their favorite characters. They have not traveled for long before Tsang goes missing. Fearful of their parents’ reactions, the kids vow to never tell anyone the truth of Tsang’s disappearance. But after fifteen years, Tyler mysteriously vanishes one night, the only clue to his disappearance; a red “TF” book lying on his living room floor. Kassie and Max must dive deep into the past if they wish to save their childhood friend—and have closure on the tragedy of Tsang’s disappearance.
The first chapter starts off strong, hooking the reader by delving into Tyler’s disappearance before flashing back to the past. But from the moment the kids open the book, the story becomes increasingly rushed, spanning a mere two pages between the delightful discovery of traveling through fiction to Tsang’s disappearance and a cessation to their adventures. The writing becomes increasingly expository-heavy, with scenes hopping between timelines and character perspectives to build context without building the characters. The story suffers from poor pacing and the tone feels as if it is constantly shifting, uncertain if it aims to be playful or serious.
The art is inconsistent in its execution. The characters’ faces and bodies differ from page to page, sometimes panel to panel. Perhaps this inconsistency was intentional, trying to incorporate a feeling of distorted realities, but if so, it is not very convincing in its portrayal. Despite this criticism, the story’s greatest strength is in the design of the villains and deities, who are exquisitely detailed and awe-inspiring. The notion of a constantly morphing reality strengthens their designs—the villains bring the story to life, conveying fluid movement in every panel that propels the story forward.
The story is supposed to be cyclical—it’s as much (or more) about returning to beginnings as it is about advancing the plot. Beginnings are full of potential, as and Kassie says, “the only meaning that exists… is that which we project into it.” However, The Fiction asks the reader to project too much. Without fully fleshing out the characters, we are asked to do this work ourselves, projecting their personalities and motivations based on the little information we know about them. Due to the lack of character development, their actions and motivations make little sense. Kassie and Max are shoehorned into a romantic subplot after 15 years of not seeing each other, seemingly based on the underlying persistence of their middle school crush. The ending leaves much to be desired—there’s a strong sense that reality is not reality, that the ending is never truly the end, but these threads are not easy to reconcile in a way that develops a satisfying story.
The Fiction is about the tension between the past and the future. We begin (and begin, and begin) with the main characters moored in the past, unable to move past what they have tried so hard to forget (“the black gravity of the past has a way with catching up with us…”). If the past is dark and heavy, then it is easy to see how the embodiment of the future is golden and bright. Even what seems poisoned can be purified, for there can always be a new beginning, even in the midst of corruption.
The trade paperback edition features a gallery of the gorgeously designed single issue covers as well as character development sketches. In regards to content warnings, there are a few scenes of implied sex as well as non-sexual, censored nudity, some violent scenes, and a brief scene of drug use.
by Curt Pires
Art by David Rubín
Boom! Studios, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: