Indie Comic Review: Riven

Riven by Bo Hampton and Rober Tinnell – Dark Horse – $17.99

Thomas Edison once said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. The creators of the comic book Riven got the first 10% and then slacked off on the last 90%. It is a shame because Riven has a unique and original concept but it fails to live up to that promise.

Katya has been in a coma for five years, and when she awakes, everything has changed. Now she is a gorgeous teenager with a mysterious, gruesome past, becoming aware of a growing, terrifying power inside her body, triggered by the touch of the full moon, eager to break free . . . Can Katy solve the mystery of her blood-drenched nightmares before they become reality?

In case the solicitation text and the cover image didn’t make it clear, Riven is a werewolf story. And, as far as the overall plot goes, it is a good one! There are plenty of twists and turns the make the story interesting and surprising all the way to the end. Every time you think you have things figured out, writers Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell switch things up a bit and reveal some new piece of information. There is nothing straightforward about Riven, and that is a good thing!

Unfortunately, while the plot is complex and keeps the reader guessing, some of the story elements have the reader guessing for all the wrong reasons. Let’s start with the cast.

The cast includes (on just the protagonist’s side) Katya, her best friend, her would-be boyfriend, her mom, and her dad. Normally this would not be a big deal. Each one should have some important role to fill in the story or offer some sort of unique support for Katya. However, all of these characters are just generic stand in who all do more or less the same thing in the story. To make matters worse, as the story races towards its conclusion, all of the characters decide to tag along. It becomes crowded and distracting as characters trip all over each other to seem like they have some reason to be there. Two or three of the characters could easily be cut and the scenes would read and flow significantly better. Right now it just reads like a tv show where a bunch of actors are contractually guaranteed a certain number of scenes, so they are just tossed in for no real reason.

That brings us to the other problem with the story – the unnecessary scenes. There is a creepy orderly who appears several times in the story and makes all kinds of sexually threatening statements to Katya. That is pretty much his whole “arc”. Katya doesn’t end up dealing with him. She doesn’t really confront him. His reason for existence is entirely to bring Katya in to contact with another character. That introduction could have been handled in any of a dozen different ways which would have been more believable and would have save close to twenty pages of storytelling room for something more interesting or important to the story.

There are several more examples of this throughout the book. Panels and pages are wasted on insignificant happenings, while the things which should be important ore require some thought are just glossed over. Instead of reading as a tight and intense story, it reads like a story written by a kid who has a good idea but is unwilling to put in the time and effort to turn it in to a great project.

The art of Riven is unfortunately the same story as the writing. THere are asome great concepts and one or two well-executed parts, but there is quite a bit in there that leaves the reader confused. Bo Hampton can draw an awesome werewolf. He strikes a great balance between wolf and human that makes for a frightening creature. The werewolves in the book are grotesque, exaggerated, and something worthy of nightmares.

However his humans need some work. With so many characters appearing in each scene one would think that Hampton would render them consistently from panel to panel and page to page. This is not the case.

Remember what I said earlier about there being superfluous scenes? One scene in the book, which could and should be important is undercut and rendered moot by the lack of consistent art. In a scene, Katya decides to get a radically different haircut. She maintains that appearance for about an issue before reverting back to her previous look. While the scene was intended to show her both growing up as well as giving in to her wild side, since it is all but forgotten by te end of the book means that those pages were wasted. Why bother with giving a visual clue about her character if the visuals are not going to last for another 30 pages?

Riven is a frustrating book because it could have been so much better. The storytelling could have been honed and sharpend and the art could have been more consistent. Instead of being a werewolf story which was worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Welcome to Hoxford, it is instead relegated to the forgotten lands of so many other stories which tried and failed.

Riven is in stores today.
You can check out a 6 page preview here.

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