Echolands #1

Writers/Co-Creators: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Artist & Designer: J.H. Williams III
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Additional Design: Drew Gill
Cover Artist: J.H. Williams III
Publisher: Image Comics

Echolands #1 has been a long time coming. Not only has it been three years since the book was originally announced at the 2018 Image Expo (one of many books to be announced from Image Comics in the recent past to take years to finally see a release, if they get released at all), but superstar artist J.H. Williams III has not drawn a long-form comic since his Neil Gaiman collaboration Sandman: Overture wrapped up in 2015. Now with Echolands, he’s reunited with his Batwoman co-writer W. Haden Blackman for a futuristic fantasy adventure, alongside colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein. The results are, predictably, beautiful.

I say “predictably” because J.H. Williams III is one of the most impressive comic book artists working today, even if (and perhaps, in part, because) his output is relatively scarce. I’ve said this elsewhere, but you don’t need to know the first thing about comics to recognize Williams’ immense talent. His work is lovingly detailed, richly textured, and flows beautifully from panel to panel. That Williams can be so dynamic in his compositions without sacrificing the discrete allure of each individual panel is rare among comic book artists, made all the more impressive by the way his style can shift from page to page, and in some cases, among multiple panels on the same page.

No disrespect to Blackman, or Williams’ own writing skills for that matter, but “creator-owned comic by J.H. Williams III” was all I needed to get sold on Echolands. As much as I love the DC Comics he’s drawn, the promise of Williams co-writing an original story so he could draw pretty much whatever the hell he wants is immensely appealing as it is.

So it really didn’t bother me that after a brief introductory page written in portentous illustrated prose, Echolands #1 kicks off in media res, with Williams and Blackman spending little time orienting readers to the strange fantasy world they’ve created. We’re introduced to Hope Redhood, a fittingly red-cloaked young thief on the run from Nazi-like authority figures working for an evil wizard. She’s aided by a friendly bruiser named Cor, who’s something like a cross between Hagrid from Harry Potter and Armstrong of Valiant’s Archer and Armstrong.

Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you much else about what happens in Echolands #1. That’s not to say it’s uneventful; there’s action and exploding heads and an amazing variety of fantasy creatures to look at on each jaw-dropping page. But this is a breathlessly-paced opening issue that’s more interested in throwing readers into its strange waters than exposition. It’s exciting and it works, mostly on the strength of Williams’ unrivaled ability to mesmerize. But readers hoping for something better resembling a straightforward, easy-to-follow plot structure may be disappointed.

I imagine Williams and Blackman will back up to explain things a bit more in future issues, but I truly don’t mind this approach to a first issue, which I’d liken to launching readers out of a cannon into the world of Echolands. They get away with it because Williams is just that good of an artist, and paired once again with Dave Stewart‘s deeply vibrant colors, there was no way this wasn’t going to be the best-looking book on the stands. Then there’s Todd Klein, who’s won approximately a gajillion lettering awards over the past 30+ years, so of course it all flows beautifully even as Williams and Stewart make it difficult for readers not to linger on each individual panel.

Echolands is also notable for its landscape format, and I must confess that reading this issue via digital review PDF, I’m not fully equipped to discuss how the unique presentation affects the way the comic reads. I might have to pick up a physical copy sometime soon. But even with the limitations of reading Echolands on my little laptop, I could tell that Williams and company were taking full advantage of creating a comic told in a special horizontal format as opposed to the traditional, vertical “portrait” presentation of most comic books.

It’ll probably be hard to fit in a bookshelf or longbox, but for a comic this pretty, you don’t mind setting aside a special place for it, right?

Published by Image Comics, Echolands #1 is available in stores and digitally now.