Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Elixir’

“There flamed my heart, there flamed my thought; three lines in golden distance shone”

Hey, check it out – a Dark Horse graphic novel! This one is Elixir (a word I absolutely love), and it’s written by Frank J. Barbiere (who also letters it) and Ricky Mammone and drawn by Victor Santos (which is a big reason why I got it). So what’s this all about?

Barbiere has written a lot of decent comics, and Elixir is another one of those. It’s not the greatest book in the world, and at times it’s fairly obvious, but solid endings go a long way to hiding a work’s shortcomings, and the ending of this works well. The story is set in an indeterminate future (based on one date in the book, it’s the late 2030s/early 2040s) when technological advances have taken over the world, but a marginalized group that calls themselves Druids (which, as far as I know, are nothing like the actual, historical Druids) thinks they can destroy all tech if they can get their hands on an “elixir” that will wipe it from the face of the earth and we can all go back to smearing berry juice on our faces and dying of minor sinus infections. The main character is a teen named Mara, whose mother is the head of the “council” and whose best friend, Loreli, isn’t quite as anti-tech as she should be and has doubts about what the council is doing. Mara’s sister is dead, and Loreli points out that modern medicine could have saved her, which doesn’t make Mara happy. Meanwhile, their former teacher, a big dude named Claude, has gotten his hands on the elixir, and the council is afraid he’ll destroy it so technology will rule all. A quest is involved, not surprisingly, and while the resolution is also not surprising, the way Barbiere and Mammone get to it and play it out works quite well because we’ve gotten to know Mara and Loreli a bit, so when things get heart-rending, it actually lands pretty well. They get to a resolution that is the only one they can get to unless they want to get really, really dark (and they don’t), but the journey is interesting, and that’s why we read stories, after all.

Santos is, of course, the bigger reason to get this book, as his work is dazzling as usual. On Amazon, one person wrote that the art was “too Frank Miller to create a distinct style,” and given the way Miller draws these days, don’t you want someone else to evoke old-school Frank Miller? Anyway, that person is wrong: Santos is more cartoony than Miller, and his line has always been crisper, and Frank Miller wasn’t the first artist to drop holding lines and use negative space, so it’s not like he can claim that!!!! Santos does his usual very cool stuff, from smaller panels breaking up a larger scene that adds a bit of urgency to static images to his amazing use of spot blacks to add shadows and nuance to the drawings. He blends some very angular lines, representing the technological part of the world, with more rounded lines, representing the magical side, very nicely, especially during one scene when Mara encounters a tiger. When the book gets a bit weird at the end, he goes panel-less on a lot of pages, creating full-page montages that keep the action going but hint at the strangeness of the situation. He also uses some nice digital techniques on some of the buildings and some of the Druidic runes, which adds a nice precision to them (and also adds some perhaps unintentional irony to the runes). The book is colored mostly in shades of blue, but when Santos does use color, he uses it judiciously and very well, especially toward the end of the book. Santos is a wonderful artist, and the book is far better for having him draw it, despite what that Amazon reviewer says!

Elixir is an entertaining book, certainly, and it’s a book you can take your time with because of the art. It’s better than you might expect given the fairly standard plot, which is perfectly fine. More Santos in your life is never a bad thing, either!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆


  1. fit2print

    Like you, I read this book largely on the basis of Santos’ involvement, as was the case with Barbiere-Santos collaborations Violent Love and Black Market (to be fair, I did enjoy the non-Santos, Barbiere-written Five Ghosts so it wasn’t JUST because V.S. was illustrating but it definitely swung the needle). As you say, Elixir really is far more of a feast for the eyes than it is fodder for deep critical analysis. “Fairly standard plot” is spot-on and I wouldn’t even go so far as to call the book “entertaining”. To me, it actually comes across like a YA graphic novel (though I haven’t seen it identified as such) or as the plot and quasi storyboard for a not-very-imaginative Disney or Pixar movie. If Elixir really is geared towards a teenage audience then I’ve no right to complain: it simply wasn’t written with the tastes of (much) older readers like me in mind. On the other hand, if it is intended to have broader appeal, to this reader at least it hit pretty wide of the mark. And of late, Elixir isn’t the only title to which I’ve responded in this way. I’m really starting to wonder if an attitude akin to Hollywood’s “Who gives a damn about the script… we’ve got Brad Pitt’s name above the title?!” is (once again) taking hold in comics, by which I mean publishers more or less shrugging at weaknesses in a script, knowing that with the right artist on board they’ll still manage to make their sales targets. I suppose I can’t really blame them if this is true. After all, I did admit at the outset that I read this book primarily for the (yep, better than Miller) illos… Still, I’m curious to know where the script-art balance sits these days, at least as far as the industry’s decision makers are concerned because, to me, there are a ton of great-looking books coming out that turn out to be not-so-great reads.

    1. Greg Burgas

      I like it more than you do, obviously, but I don’t completely disagree with you – I just liked how Barbiere resolved things, even though it’s not the most original way in the world. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be YA, but maybe, as the protagonist is a teen. Maybe that does forgive some of its flaws? Your point about writing is spot on – as comics art becomes more varied and sophisticated and interesting, it seems the writing is suffering. That sounds like a topic for a rambling blog post … 🙂

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