LotFW: The team featured

In LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD — the Kickstarter launched independent title we profiled four months ago — the future is now, just a few universes over. Its Earth has been visited by super beings from space, the so-called Godsend. They arrived in 1974 and effectively changed everything, at first for the best and then… less so.  It turns out people could not handle all that power and a third of the population paid with their lives.

Now the Godsend’s human descendants, the so-called Archetypes, may not operate outside of their native lands and a kind of awkward peace has been maintained. The separation seems to be working, but is it actually best for the world? And when a handful of Archetypes and a well-soused Godsend violate the agreement, will they save our fragile world or damn it?

Leaders of the Free World: A quick dive
Moonshine takes a quick dip in the ocean to shake loose the cobwebs, with mixed results. (Courtesy of Corey Pruitt & Elijah Isaiah Johnson)

The Art of LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD

The first thing you notice when you crack open LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD is Elijah Isaiah Johnson’s creative use of panels. The layout utilizes stacked horizontal panels, full page spreads broken by inset circles, tight verticals, and more. It conveys energy and movement, but never chaos, never becoming overly busy. From the outset we can feel that LEADERS pulses with a desire to let loose.

The panel layout is especially helpful with all the world-building to do here. The variety of panels and implied movement they give each page ensure that you don’t notice how much world history you received until you sit down to give the issue deeper consideration. I can, however, feel Johnson gearing up to cut loose just as the issue closes. On the one hand, that’s a great tease for the next installment. On the other, it would have been nice to get a bigger splash (no pun intended) before we cut away.

The character designs have a nice range of looks. Given the segregated nature of super beings in this world, it makes sense that there would not be a unified look amongst heroes. You can tell who is Godsend, who is closely connected, and who are the Archetypes that came after the shine wore off of superheroes.

The only aspect of Johnson’s art that gave me pause was some of his face work. If you look at the opening page, you can tell he can do great work with a variety of looks and expressions. However, in some of the action scenes or when we need to “read” a character who is more in the middle distance, a kind of softness sets in.

Leaders of the Free World: Florida Man
You have to admit, LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD makes this joke work. (Courtesy of Corey Pruitt & Elijah Isaiah Johnson)

The Coloring and Lettering of LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD

Ross Hughes brings an undeniably bright and poppy sensibility to the colors that I really appreciated. This is a big, brash adventure book and the colors match that well. The book does not just feel fun, it looks it, too, because Hughes uses a wide palette that favors emotionality over drab realism.

Hughes also conveys indoor and outdoor environments, and open and closed-in spaces, well. The way he mixes not just the colors but the shades of those colors to suggest spatial relations allows Johnson the freedom to experiment with panel layouts. With the coloring doing the lifting on size and depth of setting, the art gets to be a bit more expressionistic, a bit less literal.

As a reviewer, I confess I am especially weak on talking about lettering so forgive me in advance for my take on Toben Racicot. Therefore, I hope everyone understands that I mean it as a compliment when I declare the work here professional.

Lettering on independent books is often a dicey proposition. They sometimes lack a drop of personality and make the book almost a chore to read. Other books have such unique lettering it can overwhelm the panels or the story, presenting a different kind of reading chore. Thankfully, Racicot finds the sweet spot here, giving us enough style to grab hold of but never interfering with the storytelling.

Leaders of the Free World: Octopus
I don’t know, even if LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD’s Tech-no can multi-task, I wish he’d focus on that octopus. (Courtesy of Corey Pruitt & Elijah Isaiah Johnson)

The Writing of LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD

In every interview, including ComicsVerse’s, Pruitt emphasized his own fandom and made sure to call out inspirations. After reading LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD #1, he sort of did not need to. Those inspirations pop off the page.

I can feel Grant Morrison’s approach to JLA in the way Pruitt catches up with individual members and then slowly pulls them together. There is absolutely a taste of Warren Ellis in Moonshine’s blotto introduction and arrival.

However, the book is not a game of “Spot the Reference.” Pruitt is drawing on the people’s work that made him love comics. He is not carbon copying it. The pacing — the sense of fate and chances crashing into our characters and sending them spinning into each other — feels like his own.

The writing also has a rhythm to it. Characters are often funny, but it does not feel performative. They are not doing it for us, they are doing it because that’s who they are.

Finally, there is this super tiny detail that I loved. At one point a character mistakenly calls Brotha Nature “Brother Nature.” This would happen often in real life and I love the care Pruitt put in to give us that moment.

Again, as with the art, you can feel the story about to leap up a gear when the last page arrives. As I noted above, the art does a nice job of distracting from LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD’s exposition-heavy opening, but some may still not forgive it. Personally, I am a guy that loves a good dose of world building. Alas, I am not everyone and I know others are turned off by it.

Leaders of the Free World: Brotha Nature
Brotha Nature laps up the crowd adoration. (Courtesy of Corey Pruitt & Elijah Isaiah Johnson)

The Odds and Ends

As predicted, Doohickey is a delight. I’m looking forward to more fourth-wall breaking nonsense from this good pupper.

The book feels effortless in its diversity. The range of skin tones and appearances we get from the outset in Surreal’s school and going forward is wonderful. This feels like the world as it appears. That the closest we get to a white lead is a drunk alien who lives on the moon is excellent.

The first issue’s title “Where Were You When the World Ended?” is quite a grabber. I look forward to more obscure science fiction book-derived titles a la Morrison’s B-movie titles in the first JLA arc.

Also, if you listen to Surreal’s curated playlist alongside the book, it is a pretty excellent combination.

Leaders of the Free World: Medic
THE LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD are ready to do things their own way and we welcome it. (Courtesy of Corey Pruitt & Elijah Isaiah Johnson)

Going Out the Door

This is a strong debut issue of an independent book that looks and feels professional. It is a bit of a slow burn but I never felt bored or anxious to move on. Between the art and the writer, the book has more than enough sense of motion and characterization to hook you.

One Comment

  1. jacob

    March 11, 2019 at 4:45 am

    Also, if you listen to Surreal’s curated playlist alongside the book, it is a pretty excellent combination.love .it

    Reply

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