January 12, 2014

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion, issue 6 "Family Reunion"

As our heroes take in the gifts given to them by the fairy queen, Zak and Stellara fuse their orbs together, creating a dragonfly-like sky sled which is quickly branded Wing-Thing. It's a lifeless vehicle, created through their desire to have something for the bulk of the party to ride, as only Dargon and Pinsor have insectoids large enough to travel on. Pinsor worries about the heresy of this celebration of magic, but it's mostly due to his bitterness over no longer having to share a saddle with Stellara.

In Scorpia's nest, the sorceress watches the scene on her scrying pool as she hopes to use our heroes to find the Hyves and give herself ultimate power over Symbion. Skuld overhears this and bolts to report to his mother, Empress Devora, but he's snatched by Spidrax, who strikes a bargain with Scorpia to pool their resources for the moment until all other competition has been dashed. She puts invisible bonds on Skuld, allowing him to move about freely, but unable to speak or act against the evil siblings.

In Prosperon, members of the Royal Guard start to organize through their shared resentment of Regent Galken. Overhearing this is Belana, who's starting to work out that Galken's banishment of Dargon & Co was just a ruse for the ultimate benefit of the nation.

Dargon and his men come across another valley filled with the deadly mist, Meander, meaning there must be another Hyve nearby. Making use of the special plant, they make their way into the fog. Spidrax and his forces come across the fog, too, which eats several of his men before they find a way in, but it still affects their eyesight, leaving them almost blind in the mist.

Spotting figures, Spidrax attacks, only to find a hidden village in the mist. They are the Hadji, a secretive tribe clad in protective gear who make tools from the bones of the mist's victims. Spidrax's men gather up as many as they can for questioning and enslavement, and the chunk that gets away quickly runs into Dargon's group. Tensions are broken as they spot the medallion around Pinsor's neck, and his missing family is revealed to be among the Hadji, having been rescued when their town fell victim to Meander.

After a brutal smackdown between the heroes and villains, during which Spidrax is forced into a retreat, the Hadji leader decides to entrust Dargon with the location of the Hyve to keep it from falling into Spidrax's hands. As they march into the mist, the clouds part, revealing the Hyve protruding from a mountainside.


In a tribute to Jim Shooter, I'll be recapping last week's review here at the start.

"Look, friend Tony! It's this week's issue, 'Family Reunion!' "

"Aye, mighty Noel. Alas, I hope it's better than the previous issue, whose elegance, as you no doubt recall, I compared to a dancing hippo wearing cinder block shoes." *

[* See Review #5 -Two-Bits Tony]

I went into "Family Reunion!" (again with the unnecessary exclamation point) with moderate hopes. After all, surely it couldn't be as bad as last week's literary water boarding, could it? The answer is "yes". Yes it can, and yes it is. From the dull and repetitive game of thrones within the Dark Domain, to the rather listless threat of rebellion within the Shining Realm, this once promising story line has quickly flat lined. Even its few potentially good ideas, like the mysterious mist-dwelling Hadji, are too under-developed to give the story any traction. I wanted to learn more about these peace-loving people who never-the-less live within a deadly mist and use the bones of its victims as tools. Instead, we get a lot of repetitive story beats. The whole thing has become a dramatic treadmill.

It doesn't help that it's populated with protagonists that are nearly impossible to like. Pinsor's pining for his adopted daughter is creepy and pathetic. They actually expect us to root for this guy? If you wanna give the guy a mid-life crisis, fine. Get him some Viagra, a red convertible dragonfly, and a Member's Only jacket for Christ's sake. The rest of our "heroes" don't fare much better. Zak is a douche and Dargon is a boring goody two shoes. Stellara started off as easily the most interesting of the group, but after her failed tele-bonding and subsequent save the day moment, she's become nothing more than wank material for Pinsor.

In an effort to say at least one positive thing, while the writing has taken a turn for the worse, the artwork has continued to get better and better. It started out rather flat and lacking detail, particularly in the backgrounds. However, the last few issues have seen a steady improvement in this regard, with "Family Reunion!" being the best yet.

Despite this series' rapid decline, I have to admit that I am curious to see what happens now that our heroes have arrived at the Hyve. If you recall, it was a rather non-event in the cartoon. With two issues left, there's still plenty of time left to explore the mysteries of this McGuffin. I'm hoping against hope that something more interesting awaits us on the other side of those doors.


Not to fall back on our confused rants about the issues of the last two weeks, but THIS IS THE ISSUE WE SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN TWO WEEKS AGO. Our heroes fake a betrayal of their own people to set out and uncover the mysterious Hyves, and then just have two adventures of random shit that doesn't mean anything, don't advance the story and add much in the way of depth to this world, and don't point our heroes in the direction of any Hyves. Here, they find another dead town coated in Meander mist, and lo, a Hyve! Always great when weeks of searching just leads to randomly tripping over what you're after instead of, I don't know, following a trail of clues, like any other forcefully constructed narrative would hold our hand through.

[Yes, I know them just stumbling upon their goal of uncovering ancient ruins after dodging two countries worth of armed forces for a few months is how it would more realistically play out, but dammit, this is a comic called Sectaurs based on a line of hand puppets, and I demand my narrative hand holding!]

So yes, what we get here is an actual advancement of ongoing threads, as our heroes discover more Meander, a civilization that lives WITHIN the meander, Pinsor's family among refugees rescued by this nomad tribe, and lo, still the Hyve! Yes, we've had the mist and the Hyve before, but this allows us to explore it from another angle, seeing people who use the deadly Meander to protect their civilization from outside forces, while living off whatever they scavenge from the dessicated corpses of those who wander too close. They also know what the Hyve is and where it is, so they don't live by the same propagandized fear of the Ancients which plagues everyone else. They already have feared outsiders to points fingers at and don't need a further proxy.

I'll admit, there isn't a whole lot to the story. Spidrax attacks the tribe, the somewhat awkwardly named Hadji, enslaving some, until they encounter our heroes, who are quick to be friend them. We otherwise don't learn anything about their past or their culture or if they actively use the Hyve themselves or if it's just been this monolith they've looked up to (I assume we'll get more on this next week). And then there's the whole thing about Pinsor's family. How are they here? This Meander is tied to this Hyve, and should have stayed rooted in this spot. The Meander of our first issue, which swallowed Pinsors village, was a whole different thing quite some distance away. If the mists don't move, the Hadji shouldn't move, so how did they get from their mist to that mist? Is there a teleportation trick we haven't found out about yet? It doesn't make any sense. There's also the issue of the plant that protects people from the Meander. Okay, I'll grant them Mantor using his magic/science so that, instead of draping themselves with the full cloaks of issue two, the heroes only have to drape a single leaf around their necks like a college kid with a pine air freshener, but they never, I stress NEVER explain how the villains are able to suddenly get through the mist, even after it's eaten several of them. Yes, there's a hasty caption box saying they figured something out, but they suddenly go from being killed by mist to not, and they aren't even wearing leaves!

We do actually have a couple of threads carry on from the last two issues, the first of which being Stellara and Zak by their fae gifts combined creating a new vehicle out of nowhere. Which we really needed that ENTIRE issue to set up? Really? And Wing-Thing? Really? If we really needed some more mobility, why couldn't Stellara have just succeeded in her telebonding with the insectoid? And even if she hadn't, way to be a dick and claim the Wing-Thing for yourself, Zak, even though you still have an insectoid of your own. Yeah, he's small and you have to walk on your poor ittle tootsies, but you still have a thing. Stellara doesn't have a thing yet. LET STELLARA HAVE HER THING.

And we also get the continued political machinations elsewhere, with Scorpia, Spidrax, and Skuld continuing their mutual jabs for individual power, and Belana witnessing the initial organization of a revolution against Regent Galken. Again, I like these threads, but nothing is actually happening with them, to the point you could have just introduced them here and further made the last issue irrelevant. I want to see where both go, especially Skuld and his hidden, magic bonds, but I'm getting a little tired of how long we're waiting for them to get on with it.

Overall, this is a mixed issue. Our story finally kicks into gear, it moves at a good pace by focusing more on actions than words (even the mandatory recaps are much more brief and sporadic than usual), and the art continues to be good, with new inker Keith Williams giving a nice layer of texture to Steve Geiger's expressive figures. It's recovering from the faceplant of last week's installment, but it's an awkward recovery, moving at a stumbling trot instead of a steady sprint.

But hey, at least it's going somewhere.

As a final thought, I once again don't know what the hell the Sectaurs are. First, that was the name used for the entire race of insect/humanoids on this planet, then it was the label chosen for our specific band of heroes, now we learn it means everyone from the Shining Realm. You'd think the TITLE OF THE BOOK would be something you clearly establish the meaning of IN THE FIRST ISSUE, but no, they've bounced it around so many times that I don't have a clue what it'll mean by the time we end this series.

We'll be back next weekend with another Sectaurs adventure: "The Hyve".

In the early 90s, writer Bill Mantlo was tragically struck by a hit-and-run driver and left with a debilitating brain injury and insurance woes, all of which are chronicled in this moving article. If you've enjoyed Mantlo's work and would like to contribute to his ongoing care, please consider a donation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember this issue! Well, not the story but I do remember the cover. This issue was used in those "Comic variety" packs they used to sell. They'd come in a slim plastic bag as 6 comics for $5 or something like that.