*Pants not Guaranteed (Sometimes they're Shorts!)

Review: The Lesser Evil

Hey, here’s something completely different! Nothing video game related here, folks.

I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Shane W. Smith yet, but I’ve known him through the Kotaku community for the better part of a year and I don’t think I’ve gone a week without reading some form of promotion related to his graphic novel series The Lesser Evil.  And in all that time I’ve thought ‘gee Alex, you should get around to reading it someday, support a friend and all that heartwarming stuff,’ but it wasn’t until very recently that I got around to buying and reading the series.

I really wish I’d read it sooner.

The Lesser Evil follows three primary characters; Elam Padakan, Stanley Myres, and Ross Tillman, all embroiled in the same epic, galactic affairs. Smith’s strength lies in the construction of these characters, each being distinct from each other while still carrying an underlying relation in all of their plights. Each of these primary characters has a monologue of sorts to work with, journals or letters to relatives, and it’s through these that the reader gains the most insight into their hopes and dreams. They’re enjoyable sections, and fortunately not overused. There is a great moment at the beginning of the third volume that sort of subverts the expected structure of these monologues, so it all works well together.

There are some great ideas in each of these character stories. Elam leads an assault on the planet Messar, his real intentions hidden from even his brother. Ross is a young adult yearning for a different life, but finds himself almost instantly wanting his old life back as civil war unfolds around him. Stanley, a chancellor of the Senate, finds his actions defined by his past, and in his reflection seeks redemption. These are relatable characteristics, and the character arcs are not only satisfactory and enjoyable, they complement each other. Seeing these characters grow in relation to each other over the course of three volumes was, simply put, the highlight of my reading experience.

Strong characterisation isn’t here limited to these three characters, though. Smith creates a world filled with rich characters, thankfully managing to avoid creating any one-note clichés. There’s a distinct voice given to every character, and each has an important influence on narrative developments, even if it isn’t clear for some time. There are dedicated sections to fleshing out Angus Baxmerian’s character that act as a good break from the important developments in the story. Baxmerian may in fact be the most interesting character in The Lesser Evil, arguably acting as the fourth main character, where the lack of an internal monologue creates an intriguing vagueness around his personality and motivations. Perhaps weighing up the strengths of each character like that is unnecessary, or a little too much, but good writing should provoke such thoughts, and Smith has done a fantastic job in that regard.

The art style isn’t something I’ve ever encountered before, a 3D modelling style implemented by someone who says his drawing skills ‘leave a lot to be desired’. Initially, I had concerns over this style. Flipping through one of the books (which is a silly idea, for sure) it seemed very wooden, or stiff, and I worried that there was going to be a wall between the art and the text, but I was pleasantly surprised upon actually reading it to find my concerns were largely overblown. I don’t quite think the art style works for the more action-oriented scenes – something about the character models doesn’t give force to their movements – but for the most part it simply works. There are a few pages where the quality of the art seems to change dramatically, though, particularly regarding wider shots featuring full character models. The images simply don’t seem clear, appearing rather patchy, faded or rough. Regardless, the art style succeeds at complimenting the dialogue and narration. In a story which relies so heavily on understanding the motivations of each character, emotions are well presented.

While not a fault of the art style itself there are transition points in the story that are a little unclear at times. The fault here may lie with sparse background details in a lot of chapters, which may just be pure black or contain only very vague features. This meant that, a few times, turning the page I had to double back and make sure I hadn’t skipped over a page somehow. Moments like break the immersion of the read, and while those moments were few and far between (perhaps once or twice in each book at most), their presence did detract slightly from the experience. Anything to immediately identify a change of scene, be it dialogue or a text box, would have been very welcome in these instances.

There are a few faults in its presentation, but the story of The Lesser Evil is definitely one worth reading.  While the setting of the story, and the issues of the civil war on Messar, are interesting in their own ways, it is the well-crafted characters that make The Lesser Evil something special. I cared about the outcome of the story, not because of the political struggle itself, but for the implications it had on these characters, and any story that’s capable of making its readers care about the characters to that extent is a successful one in my eyes.

You’re reading this on my little blog (obviously), which only seems to occasionally get visits from TAYbies. So, if you are a TAYbie, and you have The Lesser Evil just sitting on a bookshelf somewhere, unread like my copies were for some time, I urge you to read it. It took me perhaps only two hours at most to get through all three volumes, but the journey these characters go on is definitely one worth following. And if, despite Shane’s frequent plugging of the series, you don’t own them yet, get buying!

And if you’re not a TAYbie, and don’t know what a TAYbie means, or what the heck any of this is about, buy it anyway!


(Unrelated to anything: I didn’t realise it had been so long since my last post. Time flies.)


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