(Note: a free review copy of the Hyper Force Neo graphic novel was provided by the distributor)
Around a year or so ago, I picked up the first issue of Hyper Force Neo by Jarrett Williams at a convention. Its striking art style and premise caught my eye, and as predicted, it was right up my alley. I more or less enjoyed it with a few minor gripes here and there, but overall had a good time with it. Since then, the series run was cancelled in favor of a single graphic novel release. Luckily for me, this is my preferred method for reading comics! So now that the full narrative is out there, what did I think? Well, arguably, both its positives and negatives from the first issue have remained the same! So I definitely still liked it, but I’d argue that it is more polarizing.
Spoilers after the jump!
Neo’s art is still stylish and the characters and aesthetic are charming as ever. That was never a worry of mine, as Neo was obviously created with love and passion. My worry was that the amount of passion in the project may have been too much, or not rationed well. As I wrote previously, Neo suffers from having a lot going on visually. The pages are often packed with panels, or background details. And while many of these backgrounds do flesh out the world (the comic’s biggest strength) they are usually extraneous and a bit overloading to the eyes. This is a shame, as any of the details you see in passing feels like it could have been extrapolated into a larger story or context. I suppose the extreme alternative would have been to leave cities looking more uniform, or walls to be more empty which would have been equally as bad, but I do wish a happier medium could have been found.
Regardless, the plot marches on! Continuing from the end of Volume 1, we jump right into what is going on with Dean, Neil, and Layla, and their alien enemies. They are on a class field trip to an art museum while the (disguised) aliens are doing recon to find more Neo keys. During a bit of boredom, Dean flashes back to the completion of the first volume’s mech battle. After this is wrapped up, he continues his work. Meanwhile, Neil gets distracted from his work by a noise which turns out to be another helper robot. Layla also goes on a quick search which gains her a robot as well. Some slice of life events happen, and Neil and Layla use their powers during an attack that breaks out at the museum. Once this is all taken care of, the three teens come together to cheer about their newly acquired powers. Shortly after, we see the last member of the team (who showed up in the first installment) completing some ship maintenance on the Neo ship in space, and he welcomes the new teens to the team. The story closes out with the aliens realizing that they need to change their strategy to gather the keys, and introducing a new commander to their ranks. The book ends here on an open note, serving more as an origin story than anything else.
Clutter seemed to affect the story as well as the art, but in this case, I can’t tell if it was due to the constricted page budget. Since Neo will be limited to this graphic novel, you sometimes get the feeling that Williams had to speed through some story beats just to get to the planned climax, rather than from any innate inability to tell a story on his part. Going back to the worldbuilding, the first issue seemed to dwell more on setting up characters, locations, and concepts. The rest of the issues in this novel seem to make threads happen just because. For instance, Neil and Layla get their robot assistants quickly and almost randomly. Neil finds his in a plumbing system attached to an art exhibit he was observing on a field trip, and Layla finds hers after hours at school using a treasure detecting shovel. It makes sense that she has one, but it felt quick. This wouldn’t feel as bad if Neo didn’t still spend some time on the slice-of-life portions of the story. Story beats like Dean getting detention or chatting with a classmate (who’s also a disguised alien) don’t feel like they progress the story in any tangible way. More time could have been spent fleshing out the Neo Force.
The story itself isn’t bad though, don’t get me wrong. There are coming of age themes, themes of responsibility to both school and teams, and video game themes. The video games represent effort, practice, and shooting for accomplishments/good ratings. Dean and Neil have to learn how to properly and efficiently pilot their mechs and control their powers. Additionally, both the heroes and villains get score screens on their mobile devices rating their performance in battle. These video game themes tie in neatly to the ideas about coming of age and responsibility. Each character shows improvement throughout, and is focused on perfecting their Neo powers. The young heroes discuss how to be a better team, and Dean even gets a lecture from another student in detention about how quitting the track team (and by proxy, any team) would screw over his teammates. The Neo hero, Yellow Hype, who turns out to be an upperclassman at Dean’s school, feels jealous about Dean’s quick rise to prominence and projected place as the leader. But he gets a quick talk about how being on a successful team normally is seen as reward enough. It’s great to see video games and comics being used as an enforcement of socialization and teamwork as well as self-improvement. And luckily, these characters are good vessels to embody these themes. They are certainly likeable, but outside of Layla (she’s competitive and wants to be the best, full stop), their motivations seem to be pretty unclear. Even the villains, at the first few glances, want to take the Neo keys for power just because; they just want to have power for power’s sake. That’s all right as a framework, but not so good when you spend a decent amount of time with the villains personally.
Overall, though, I still can’t rescind my previous recommendation. Everything about the book oozes charm, even though it’s a bit unrestrained. New Sigma City still looks fun with all of its tech and like a place I’d love to visit… except for the giant mech fights that destroy buildings. The writing is good and the plot is easy to follow and humorous when it needs to be. Although flawed, I still recommend you check out Hyper Force Neo.
Hear more from BrothaDom on Character Reveal, the podcast he cohosts with Lady Saika!</em