Echolands feels like an idea J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman just could not shake. There are so many characters and genres meshed together that this could only be a labor of love. When I read the publisher synopsis, I was skeptical. “Echolands is a landscape format, mythic-fiction epic where anything is possible—a fast-paced genre mashup adventure that combines everything from horror movie vampires to classic mobsters and cyborg elves, to Roman demigods and retro rocket ships.” The thing is, they weren’t wrong. It is all of those things plus a little more. I always appreciate when creators try something different and this book being in landscape format is certainly the first indication that it won’t be like anything you’ve read before.
Echolands opens with precocious thief Hope Redhood explaining where she came from (sort of) and why she’s on the run (sort of). The world she finds herself in now is ruled by Teros Demond, a powerful wizard and part time despot. His daughter is the chief enforcer of his rule and she’s not to be trifled with, as Hope and her friends immediately learn. This book jumps out of the gate and the pace does not slow down after Hope puts herself and friends in jeopardy by stealing from Demond. The entirety of this 6-issue volume is really just Demond’s forces chasing Hope and company, but the complexity of this world and all its many layers keep it from ever feeling dull. There are many different types of characters from different worlds and they are all illustrated in unique and varied ways. I know that the idea of a “multiverse” is getting used a lot these days in comics (and movies based on comics), but that really is the easiest way to try to describe this world. Hope is illustrated in an entirely different manner than her partner Cor, who is entirely different from their friend Castrum, and so on. This is the real magic trick that Echolands pulls off, convincingly blending so many worlds on top of one another into one cohesive story.
The unsung hero of this whole project isn’t J.H. Williams III for providing the absolutely arresting art in this book, but Todd Klein who did the lettering. Every character who comes from a different time and place gets their own distinct dialogue style/font and coloring. You could read this and tell who is speaking at any given time based solely on the attention paid to the detail of the lettering. While I’m on the subject though, Williams artwork here is incredible and the nuance really makes this book work. There is so much “high-concept” plot and construction to the story that this book might not hold up without the art being this good. Touches of it are familiar to those who read Williams and Blackman’s run on Batwoman. (This would also be a good time to add Batwoman: Hydrology to your library’s collection if it is not already there; it is a masterclass.) To call back to how convoluted the synopsis might seem from the outside, there really are that many different genres happening here, yet they all feel unique and easily identified.
Image Comics rates this book as Mature and I agree that this is best suited for the adult graphic novel section of the library, but not simply for gore or language. I think there are art references and genre specific images that might be missed by even older high school readers. There is a lot to take in on most pages and there are certainly easy to miss details, but the larger the frame of reference you have, the more enjoyable this book will be. Some people might not necessarily enjoy the layers of story happening here or the approach to the storytelling, with interstitials between issues and an ongoing narrator who doesn’t really tell you anything, but for those who choose to dive in, it is a very captivating world. There are many unanswered questions to bring you back for the next installment and the creative team deserves credit for trying something different with the format and really going for it.
Echolands, Vol. 01
By J. H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman
Art by J. H. Williams III
Publisher Age Rating: M
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)