Trading Up: Four Eyes Volume 1

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to repeat myself: the best comics are the ones that take advantage of the medium.  Jack Kirby is a legend for his stunning visuals that, in real life, might look hokey.  Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man works so well because Vaughan doesn’t bother to think small.

A new series coming out of Image Comics, Four Eyes, doesn’t bother to think small either.  It’s the story of an alternate New York during the Great Depression.  The city is a grim place to live.  Fathers and husbands can barely provide for their families.  Innocent children turn to stealing to keep from starving.  Mobsters have the police in their pockets.  Sounds like the Great Depression NYC we all know from the history books, right?

Well, in this NYC, there’s one more thing more dangerous than child workers in a machine shop: dragons. 

The story follows Enrico, a young boy who adores his father.  He doesn’t ask questions when his father mysteriously finds a well-paying job. He doesn’t question his good fortune when his father takes a day off of work (unheard of during the Great D) and takes his family to the beach.

He does begin to question everything when his father is killed while trying to smuggle a baby dragon out of its cave.

Enrico feels the weight of responsibility with his father gone.  He must provide for his mother.  This responsibility eventually leads him to discover his father was involved in dragon-fighting, a new gambling addiction that has the city by its throat.  The boy decides to work for these dragon fighters as well, hoping to kill some dragons in the process.

This small boy, who cannot find hope at home, braves the real world and stands strong against adults, dank caves, and fire-breathing dragons.

As the story moves on, more questions are raised.  How dangerous are dragons?  In this world, some claim dragons are relatively harmless, until captured and raised to kill another dragon in the ring.

Also, what were the circumstances of the death of Enrico’s father?  Enrico witnesses his death, as his father tried to singlehandedly steal a baby dragon for an unknown purpose.  As the boy learns, this is a job for ten men at least.  Enrico begins to see a gaping hole in what he knows as the truth.

This first volume of Four Eyes collects the first four issues of the series, and while it is an incredibly captivating read, some readers may find this volume lacking.  Four Eyes moves more slowly than most comics today.  In four issues, there is little resolution. 

This is, clearly, just the beginning.

Don’t let this keep you away, though.  Four Eyes may be a slow burn, but I have the feeling it will be worth the ride.  Writer Joe Kelly seems to be focusing on Enrico and his personal anguish more than the novelty of dragons in New York City.  This is a boy struggling to hold on to the memory of his father, while also avenging his death.

Much like Luke Skywalker at the end of A New Hope, Enrico is in a new place by the end of issue four.  While the ending of this collection may not be a big surprise, it is a moment of building excitement.  Enrico has gained the tools and the bravery to become a hero in this new world, and he gains a few helping hands along the way.

Needless to say, this first volume will leave you craving more.

The art, by Max Fiumara, is reminiscent of Tim Sale, with a touch of Darwyn Cooke. The dragons look amazing, each with its own style, but the people are the crowning achievement.  Each character is drawn expressively to show their inner personality.  Enrico’s mother has luscious blonde hair like a movie star, but her frame is frail with hunger.

Little additional features are included in the trade.  A few of Fiumara’s sketches are tossed in for good measure, but there are sadly no scripts or pitches to be seen. 

Regardless of the lack of bonus features, Four Eyes: Forged in Flames is surely the beginning to a deep, character-driven drama that will hopefully last for years to come.  It’s the dragons that draw you in, but it’s Enrico who will wrangle you into staying.  He’s a character you’ll be excited to see grow.

Four Eyes Volume 1: Forged in Flames is available now, published by Image Comics.

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