At the End of Your Tether
This is my first comics review in ages. I didn’t want it to be negative, but I guess it is, which only makes me feel bad. I would like it to be constructive, with a silly hope that maybe something can improve a product in progress. However, I found the trade for Lion Press’ At the End of Your Tether already posted on Amazon. It’s projected to be out in November, not long after the three-issue series ends. Sometimes I forget how comics work. The course is clear. It will, in all likelihood, come out as planned with no possible way to change it. I just may not be around to read the rest of its serialization.
At the End… appears to be an attempt at a Fault in Our Stars type of young adult fiction. I’m not the intended audience, which is great. As I get older, there will be less comics made “for me” and more that are not. So before I wrote this, I asked my girlfriend’s teenage daughter for an expert opinion about a comic seemingly made for her.
The one statement she allowed me to quote: I just wish I knew what was going on.
Uh-oh, I thought to myself on the book’s behalf.
She confirmed my own thoughts. I had to read this too many times to figure out the chronology of things. The story begins with three unnamed people in a forrest, two of which may be or not be two older versions of Ludo and Arlo, the lead teen characters we see later (plus one character we never seen again in the first issue). They’re writing a letter to a person (or persons) no longer with them before setting the letter on fire — along with the whole forest?
Then we cut to what has to be the nineties. I guess it’s 1997, but the book doesn’t tell us that. We can only deduce that later as readers because there are mix tapes and landline phones.
The story seems to only exists in this time period for the twist at the end of the first issue, when Ludo returns to the military base he moved away from. He calls and talks to Arlo the night before, only to find out once he’s back that she has been missing for two weeks. It is especially a cheap twist given that artist V.V. Glass draws Arlo in her house talking to Ludo.
I think Smith and Glass tried a little trick, implying that Arlo in her house was all in Ludo’s head. Why? Because that you never see Arlo’s face directly. They want readers to look at that and go pretty clever. Until the very next page, where you see Arlo’s face. Except her eyes are blocked for no logical reason other than that’s the way the artist drew it. So the reader is more likely to think, Pretty cheap.
I’m far less interested in how the plot twist is resolved. For me, the only reason to pick up the second issue is to figure out the jumbled timeline from the first issue. How long did Ludo stay in the Rio Azul military base where Arlo lives/lived? When did his family leave to start a failed bike shop? Did they have to leave the base for him to do that? Why is Ludo’s entire family going back to the base “on vacation?”
Oh, and if you tell me — like the plot synopsis does — that this all happened in 1997, I call bullshit.
Because most of my mind is stuck in Kevin Smith Quentin Tarantino movies, I also had to be reminded — by a source or group of sources who may or may not be the book’s intended demographic — that real young people don’t talk the way these characters do. I could forgive it if this were some kind of period piece, but for all the references to bands, the comic is somehow at the same time too nondescript to be that. And if this is supposed to be “teen noir,” as one press release puts it, I didn’t get this impression from the first issue — the first third of the entire story — at all!
In a world where Marvel and DC solely exist to push out more superhero movie licenses and institutions like Vertigo and Mad have fallen, I rooted for this book the minute I saw it in the store. More diverse entertainment for younger readers should be supported now more than ever! Sadly, if I buy the second issue of At the End of Your Tether, it will be more out of that sense of duty and obligation and less out of interest in the story. Lion Press is to be applauded for the effort. I just wish they put a better foot forward.