The Family Trade #1 by Justin Jordan, Nikki Ryan, and Morgan Beem
THE FAMILY TRADE #1 promises a steampunk adventure, but doesn't connect us with its characters or setting just yet.
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Stays Afloat

The island city Thessala, more informally known as the Float, is a neutral city of commerce in the middle of the ocean. The Float contains a hierarchy: the Clan, the ruling class, and the Family, secretly devoted to keeping the Clan in check — by any means necessary. Writers Justin Jordan and Nikki Ryan, with artist Morgan Beem, introduce a world of steampunk and secrecy in THE FAMILY TRADE #1. But while they craft this world with care, there is too little to connect us with the setting and characters.

THE FAMILY TRADE #1 throws us into the action right away. Jessa, the youngest member of the Family, is tasked with assassinating one of the Clan. But before she can act, she hesitates, and her target fights back. The art excels in these opening pages; Morgan Beem utilizes perspective and energetic panel layouts to heighten the pace as Jessa fights off thugs and flees the scene. Jessa’s red scarf pops against the muted background, highlighting her as she speeds through the panels.

Jessa then reconvenes with other key members of the Family: her uncle William, and the Bookmaker, their mysterious leader in charge of deciding what jobs the Family gets done. The Bookmaker reprimands Jessa as we learn the plans for the assassination attempt had changed. But that doesn’t stop Jessa from seeking out her target one more time.

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the family trade #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

World Building in THE FAMILY TRADE #1

Between these opening scenes is a history lesson on the origins and politics of the Float. With this, Justin Jordan and Nikki Ryan establish an intricate setting and backstory. However, it’s here where THE FAMILY TRADE #1 begins to lose the momentum it had established in its opening pages. Jessa explains how the Float came to be and how it functions, but Justin Jordan and Nikki Ryan don’t yet offer the details that would help to connect us to this setting. We learn who the Clan and the Family are, but we don’t yet understand how the Clan threatens the Float, nor much about how the Family has succeeded in keeping it, well, afloat. THE FAMILY TRADE #1 succeeds in setting up the pieces, but a few are still missing from the bigger picture.

Morgan Beem’s unique style shows off in the opening scenes. She utilizes color to accentuate each moment, and there’s a stunning double-page spread depicting the entirety of the Float. Afterwards, however, the art doesn’t get much opportunity to stretch. The pace slows down to allow for exposition, which is natural for the first chapter introducing a sprawling community like the Float. Yet it leaves us wanting for the steampunk scenery that THE FAMILY TRADE has the potential for.

Courtesy of Image Comics

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The Family and the Clan

In this debut issue, Jessa is also never mentioned by name. It’s not until Justin Jordan’s notes after the issue’s conclusion that we have a name to put to the face of THE FAMILY TRADE’s protagonist. We get a glimpse into Jessa’s personal life — she balances her day job with the field work of the Family — but there are gaps that need to be filled before we can truly understand her. What’s her dynamic with the rest of the Family? Why did she fail in her assassination attempt? What motivates her to prove herself? Jessa does have a distinct voice, but she will be a compelling lead once we learn what drives her.

Stagger Berghardt, the target of her assassination attempt, also leaves questions behind his motivations. THE FAMILY TRADE depicts him as a shady politician, a Donald Trump type who promises to “make the Float glorious again.” We see him at his rally and learn that he’s pulling strings. But with what little we know about the Clan, there are few stakes just yet regarding his presence.

Morgan Beem’s character designs bring the figures that populate the Float to life. Their features are expressive and colorful, and they look like they’re right out of a fairy tale. Her style perfectly complements the setting of THE FAMILY TRADE and will certainly be a large contribution to the appeal of this story.

The Bottom Line

THE FAMILY TRADE has the potential to be a story of poignant political commentary with distinct characters in a unique, lively setting. While its premise is definitely intriguing, THE FAMILY TRADE #1 doesn’t offer enough to engage us just yet. It does, however, have the promise of bigger things coming, which will hopefully include more about who Jessa and the Family are to invest us in the conflict on the Float.

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