Meet Lander, Fadet, and Urtsi, three local boys determined to prove their heroism to the great Axel Excel and his Sauroktones, mighty beast hunters. Excel and his crew are in the boys’ part of the world because they’re tracking the tamarro, a fierce monster the Sauroktones previously failed to kill, and the boys are helping track it with information about the local landscape. Lander, Fadet, and Urtsi are about to learn some very difficult truths about reality and heroes when the Tamarro does show up.
The Sauroktones is distinctive for its art style, which is very classic cartooning with bright flat colors in teals, yellows, and reds, and heavy use of black for creating a sense of distance or shadow. The linework is in the same vein, with characters drawn very simply and loosely, features changing slightly between panels. The color choices are incredibly effective at conveying the big emotion of scenes, but not necessarily an individual character’s reaction, and there’s not much time devoted to individual characters’ reactions to moments anyway. But when the art nails a moment it really captures it, like the scene around the campfire and the fight with the tamarro. Both have very distinct moods, but it’s because it’s about the entire moment and not each character’s place in them.
What doesn’t help this is the incredibly short length of this book; The Sauroktones Volume 1 is only about 33 pages long total, more the length of a single-issue comic than a full graphic novel. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it meant I struggled to keep up with the quick plot and the absolute lack of explanation on anything. There’s mention of a rocket, there’s slang terms thrown around, a character who seems to be a slave, and none of it is explained. The story never lingers over a moment long enough to discuss it, really, always pushing on to the next scene and story beat. The ending is also abrupt; we see the chains around a character’s hands, they walk away, and the last panel is Urtsi standing in the dark. It’s another great panel, but I felt like I’d missed something for this to be where the first volume ended.
Something to consider when deciding whether or not to add The Sauroktones to your collection is that, as a Europe Comics publication, it is only available in digital edition. It is available to purchase via Overdrive for less than $6, so at least the price reflects the short length.
I have to admit, at first I wasn’t sure how to feel about this work. It’s so short, and there’s so little exposition, that it pushed me away. Re-reading made me really appreciate the art, but I’m still pretty baffled by the story and the narrative structure is a little odd. At some point, it becomes the kids recounting the story to someone else, and then we catch up to that moment and move forward in time again. I don’t think it’s a bad comic, but it’s not an easy recommendation. As far as who this book is a good suggestion for, I’d say older comic fans who miss the older styles of art and like a challenge. But it can also be great for tween and teen readers who like adventure stories set in dystopian landscapes, like Spill Zone. If the six volumes of Sauroktones that have been released thus far digitally are ever collected and released in print, it would be an easier title to recommend.
The Sauroktones, Vol. 1 By Erwann Surcouf Europe Comics, 2020 Available via Overdrive
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
One otherwise ordinary day, five teenagers suddenly find themselves with the ability to mentally access all recorded public knowledge. Research studies, the entire Internet, every book and movie ever made… it’s all in their heads.
Four of the teens reveal their powers immediately and become media sensations before being whisked away to a safe house by the FBI. It seems great: they have a fancy villa to themselves, they’re world-famous, and they’ll never have to go back to school. But the fifth teen hangs back, not trusting the authorities. She’s right not to: some members of the FBI have sinister plans for these teens, and a secret organization is also desperate to get its hands on them. Will all the world’s recorded knowledge be enough to keep “the omniscients” safe? And how did they come to have this power, anyway?
Despite the series title, the teens aren’t actually omniscient. Most of them can only pull up information that is public knowledge, meaning their ability is not that much more useful than having a smartphone. One, however, can access information that is more private, like police reports, while another can see events in the recent past, even if they have not been recorded. The boundaries of their powers and the differences between them are a little fuzzy, with the teens not trying to parse or explain them until very late in the book. Still, their abilities have interesting implications, from telling them the locations of security cameras to effectively spoiling the ending of every book and movie in existence.
While they all live in America, the five teens hail from very different families and situations, as well as different races. One is the child of successful lawyers; one is an undocumented immigrant separated from his parents; one is the overworked and underappreciated daughter of a family struggling on the edge of poverty. These differences shape how they react to their new abilities and changing situations.
No single character emerges as the main protagonist of this story, though Jessica, the skeptical girl who does not rush to reveal her powers and join the other four, gets more solo page time than the rest. The book jumps between points of view, including not just the titular “omniscients,” but FBI agents and members of the secret organization that is after the teens. There are also brief, intriguing glimpses of an anonymous person who may be connected to how the teens got their abilities.
This volume has virtually no violence. Any tense situations are all comfortably resolved by the end (though there are hints that the mystery of these new powers will continue to be explored). There is no nudity or sexuality unless you count a couple of random guys hitting on Jessica. No romance, either—perhaps surprising for a story where a group of teens is thrown together with danger, superpowers, and little supervision. The complexity—and things like the FBI alluding to preparing “a little Guantanamo” for the teens—push this toward teen, rather than kid, territory. At the same time, there is some clumsy exposition, with characters explaining things to people who would already know them.
The art is detailed, clear, and expressive. The characters are realistic, and their poses, expressions, and movement feel natural, but with a slight comic-book exaggeration for emphasis. They are all distinct and easy to recognize. The backgrounds are fittingly realistic, detailed without being cluttered, and good use is made of color to add to the mood of various scenes and settings.
This is a mostly gentle story of five teens brought together by the strange power that changed their lives. They aren’t exactly superheroes; as of yet, they aren’t fighting crime, just trying to figure out their own circumstances. Fans of supernatural stories with relatable, good-hearted protagonists—and nothing too scary—might enjoy this volume.
The Omniscients, vol 1: Phenomena By Vincent Dugomier Art by Renata Castellani, Benoît Bekaert, Europe Comics, 2020 ISBN: 9791032811191
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Belgian, Italian Character Representation: African-American, Latinx