Urban exploration, stage magic and the supernatural collide in the debut issue of The Last Broadcast, a rare new monthly comic from Boom's Archaia imprint. Created by writer Andre Sirangelo and Gabriel Iumazark, the opening issue tells the parallel stories of Harumi and Niko, two San Francisco urban explorers, and a struggling magician named Ivan, as they both become caught up in the mystery surrounding the death of the famous magician, Blackhall. The Last Broadcast is an intriguing and beautifully constructed comic, albeit with several flaws that keep it from being an automatic "must read".
From the moment you pick up The Last Broadcast, it looks and feels different than other monthly comics. With a thick card stock cover, no interior advertisements disrupting the story, two pages of "bonus material" at the end of the comic and a complicated puzzle on its interior cover, Archaia has designed a comic of a higher quality than most other monthly comics out there. I don't know how much of this can be attributed to creators Sirangelo and Iumazark and how much of the credit goes to Archaia's design manager Scott Newman, but I think that all involved with the physical design and publication of The Last Broadcast should be applauded. This is a comic you feel you should be paying $3.99 for, a rarity in today's overpriced comics market.
As stated earlier, The Last Broadcast follows both the young magician Ivan, and two urban explorers, Harumi and Niko. Much of the opening issue is focused on Ivan's struggle to establish himself as a premiere stage magician and his obsessive admiration for the long-dead magician Blackhall. Harumi and Niko's exploration of San Francisco's underground and their discovery of a chamber connected to Blackhall acts as more of a "B-plot", and disappears for several pages in the second half of the comic. While the pacing and panel layouts were dense at times, the creative team keeps the comic moving for the most part, and successfully feeds readers a lot of exposition that sets up the central mystery of the comic.
Iumazark's artwork adds a creepy and sinister undertone to the comic. There's a hint of manga influences in his character designs, but with more grit and rougher lines. I really liked the panel layouts, especially the decision to use thick horizontal gutters and thin vertical gutters. It added to the comic's unique design and helped readers navigate through the rather complicated artwork. Iumazark's limited color palette also contributed to the gritty and slightly sinister tone of the comic. I liked that Ivan's panels were very clean and filled with white space, while Harumi and Niko's were significantly darker, providing additional contrast between the two storylines.
While I enjoyed The Last Broadcast, there were some very frustrating elements to it as well. With much of the issue focusing on Ivan, and the explanation of Blackhall's history and death, none of the other characters receive any focus or characterization. Adding to this, the "urban exploration" angle isn't really explored upon much. If not for the back cover explaining who Harumi and Niko were, the readers would have no idea if they were thieves, modern day ninjas, explorers or something else.
I also felt that the limited color palette hurt the artwork in several places. Often, the shading was too dark, obscuring details and making it hard to understand what was going on. One panel, showing the first fatality of the series, was especially bad, and took me a good thirty seconds before I realized there was a second figure with some sort of weapon standing in the middle of the panel. Even the issue's cover suffers a bit from overshadowing. Comparing this promo image, taken from The Last Broadcast's website, to the final cover, one can see how the shading actually detracts from the art in places. It leads me to believe that the coloring issues may be more of a production problem than an artistic decision, but I could be wrong.
While flawed at times, The Last Broadcast is an intriguing read and has earned my loyalty for at least a few more issues. There needs to be more well-made comics like The Last Broadcast on shelves today, and I encourage readers to at least give the first issue a try.