Jimmie Robinsons' newest limited series from Image Comics never really adds up to the sum of its parts.
"My dad always said that was the dividing line. Those who ask questions...and those who find answers. Which side are you on?"
Often, if a comic takes place in a school, the main character is an outcast struggling to fit in with a student body they seem to have no hope of ever blending into. Stories that take place in a school are usually coming-of-age stories where the protagonist finds that he or she is exceptional specifically because of those characteristics that make him or her different.
This is where Jimmie Robinson's Five Weapons #1 subverts the genre and throws a monkey wrench into expectations. In Tyler Shainline, Robinson has created a character who comes into a new school already ahead of everyone else, and who doesn't even want to fit in. He seems to have all the answers and some kind of master plan. What that could be, is a mystery, but Robinson has a lot of fun establishing the world and the high concept of the series. This isn't just any school Tyler has been enrolled in – it's an academy for the children of assassins who plan to go into the family business. The titular five weapons are the five tracks that students can take at the school. They can specialize in "knives, staves, archery, exotic weapons, and even guns." While introducing the school, Robinson gets to play in the requisite high school story tropes of cliques, teacher's pets, and the different personalities of members of the faculty, and shine them through the dark prism of casual violence and mystery. Also, Tyler may not be who he says he is, so there is that bit of intrigue that ought to entice readers to come back for the next four issues. Five Weapons is frankly the type of thing you'd find in a lot of manga, but as familiar as the book is, and as broadly drawn as the characters are, Robinson brings a sense of high-energy wit to the premise and seems to really be enjoying himself.
The problem with Five Weapons #1 is Robinson's choices in page layout (Robinson handles all of the creative chores on the titles except for the color art, which is provided by Paul Little). Robinson's pages start of ok, but before long, it's apparent that every single page has the exact same layout. Robinson utilizes anywhere between four and six page-width panels (what's been known as "widescreen comics") throughout the entirety of the issue. The effect makes for a comic that's frankly boring to look at. The issue starts to resemble Venetian blings more than it does a comic book. More than that, it doesn't serve the energy of the story; in fact, it undercuts the narrative. Robinson has written a script that calls for a lot of big moments with a lot of movement and dynamic artwork. Instead, his choice of page layout makes the story inappropriately claustrophobic. The story feels like it wants to break free of its restrictive panel structure, but is ultimately being held down.
More's the shame is that Robinson has an attractive art style that could use a better showcase than the one he's giving himself. His figure drawing has a little bit of an Osamu Tezuka tinge to it, and his character designs are wonderful and eye-catching, not to mention well thought-out. The constraints of the indistinct page layout lead to some wonky perspective and depth at certain points, and overall the art is never able to truly match the script's energy. The reader just ends up feeling like he or she is witnessing the events of the comics through a mail slot, and that's not a pleasant place to be.
Conventionally, one would think that a comic by a writer/artist would feel like a cohesive vision, but Jimmie Robinson's Five Weapons #1 seems like the exception that proves the rule. Here, script and art feel like they're at odds. The narrative is bold and has a good enough energy, but the art doesn't share that vision. There is some cleverness to be found here, and the comic moves briskly, befitting the gallows humor that's carried through issue, but while the characters all look great and the colors and textures are well-realized, there just isn't enough visually to be engaged with.