It’s the end of one world and the start of a new one—and what do you know? The rich are still exploiting people.
In Arca from IDW Publishing, climate change and calamity have driven the remnant of humanity from Earth. Aboard a ship known as the Arca, the survivors have set sail across the universe for a planet they call Eden where they will begin again. On the ship, humanity exists in three classes. Citizens are the rich and famous who enjoy lives of luxury. Helpers are the security personnel who ensure that life continues without disruption. And finally, we have the settlers. All settlers are under 18 years of age, a lower class who offer their lives to the day-to-day work of keeping the Arca running. They live in gratitude to the citizens who provide them with all they have and look forward to graduating at the age of 18 when they will leave behind their lives of service and relocate to a different part of the ship in anticipation of the eventual paradise they will discover on Eden.
Is it any surprise that not all is as it seems? When Effie, a young woman approaching her graduation, begins to ask questions, it sets off a chain reaction that will upset life on the Arca forever. Where are all those who have graduated in the past? How long has the Arca been traveling and when do they expect to arrive. Why does it feel as though every citizen is keeping secrets from Effie and her friends? Effie knows that there is something out there to be discovered, but even she cannot fathom just how much has been hidden from her—or how much it may cost to uncover the truth.
I’ll be honest, I was excited to read this one because I love a good sci-fi dystopian adventure. In the end, what I found in Arca was all very familiar. Writer Van Jensen takes on the always ambitious goal of creating an entire futuristic world in a matter of pages. Unfortunately, what we end up with as readers is a cast of very familiar characters who largely follow the archetypes we expect to see. From the sinister leader of the Arca to the brutish security guards, from the sympathetic citizen who takes Effie under his wing to Effie herself, we know these roles, and we know how this story is going to play out. Class conflict and exploitation are topics ripe for exploration, but in the end Arca feels rushed and underdeveloped as it skims over its own logical flaws and doesn’t attempt to put a particularly new spin on a familiar premise.
Accompanied by art from Jesse Lonergan, the art (at least in the advanced copy I read) transitions partway through the volume from full color to black and white with color accents. Straddling the line between realism and stylized cartoon imagery, the art progresses with a level of simplicity that nevertheless balances the current timeline with flashbacks, conveying the complexities of a sci-fi setting while keeping the reader grounded in the story at hand. With an eye for paneling and some moments of effective visuals, Lonergan’s art keeps the story moving forward from initial world building to dramatic finale.
IDW doesn’t appear to assign an age rating to Arca, but with occasional strong language and some violence, it feels geared toward older teens and adults. Additionally, there are a couple moments where some somewhat shocking mature themes appear in the story only to return to the background. This subject matter is not given a great deal of space in the story which keeps it limited on the page while also leaving open some complex questions that might have been better served with deeper analysis. Altogether, it’s a story that will be appreciated more by an older audience able to spend some time with the implications of the story beyond what is covered between the pages.
In the end, Arca might have some appeal to older readers who haven’t encountered this sort of story before or readers desperate for any piece of dystopian sci-fi media they can get their hands on. Beyond that, the comic is largely composed of underdeveloped echoes of other creators who have already told this story in more complex and entertaining ways. It wouldn’t be a bad addition to a genre comics collection, but there are better offerings available for those who are interested in this sort of story.
By Van Jensen
Art by Jesse Lonergan
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)