Trust no one. The Cryptocracy runs the world from the shadows.
Cryptocracy Writer: Van Jensen Artist: Pete Woods Publisher: Dark Horse Books
PUT on your tinfoil hat, cover up your webcam, and trust no one. Because everything you read about on the Web? They’re all true. And they really are all out to get you.
Cryptocracy is a science fiction graphic novel that asks: what if every conspiracy theory out there, from little green men to the Illuminati, was real? What we should get is an intriguing, sinister tale that makes us paranoid of who’s watching our every move.
What we get from this book instead, however, is a convoluted, rather unengaging mess of dull characters and intriguing, but wasted concepts. Which is a pity as it had so much going for it in the start.
Cryptocracy (the word apparently means a government by hidden leaders) is set on a world just like ours, which is secretly ruled by nine powerful families who manipulate things from the shadows. Aided by powerful technology and unearthly allies, these Nine Families believe themselves untouchable shepherds of the rest of society.
One day, however, a mysterious old man named Hum appears, spouting dark prophecies as he dramatically starts to overturn the Family’s rule. Doing their best to stop him are a collection of agents from the Family, including Grahame (a tough, charismatic member of the Mars family), the hacker Bela, and Jason, a gruff, talking bear creature.
For this series, writer Van Jensen (Pinnochio Vampire Slayer, Green Lantern Corps) does his best to create a complex, engaging world, but sadly, falls a bit short. Much is made of the Nine Families that really rule the world: each is named after a planet, with different goals, but we never learn enough about all of them to make each family distinct or interesting. He could have changed his series concept to one big family ruling the world, and it would make little difference to the story.
It also doesn’t help that much of his story-telling feels very expository, and sometimes repetitive: there will be full pages devoted to one concept or another, only to have a character repeat this same information in dialogue later. We sort of got it the first time, you know?
Much of the story’s action focuses around Hum’s destruction of the Nine Families, in accordance to prophecy and what not. This proves to be a lot less engaging than expected, as a lot of it revolves around future tech and magical power being thrown into the reader’s face before he or she gets to become familiar with the world of Cryptocracy.
This focus on the destruction of the Nine Families is a little alienating: the series doesn’t really touch on how the rest of the world is affected by the events of it’s story (which involve buildings destroyed and the exposure of the Families!), which makes it feel a little hollow at times.
After all, the reason many conspiracy theories are intriguing is because they touch on how everyday lives are affected by the actions of a select few.
This action focus also takes a lot away from character development: most of the mains come across as stock stereotypes, and it is not easy to feel invested in their fates. Only Jason really stands out, and that’s because it’s hard to forget a talking bear!
Cryptocracy’s saving grace, however, is it’s humour: the book never takes itself too seriously, and features a lot of witty dialogue and hilarious references.
The artwork by Pete Woods (Superman: Up, Up And Away, Batman War Games, Avengers Assemble) is decent, but not great. His level of detail is rather inconsistent: characters go from super-detailed in one panel to almost crude, blocky depictions in the next.
All in all, Cryptocracy is not a bad series: it merely feels cliched and derivative, and fails to fully take advantage of its very intriguing premise. Real life conspiracy theories are more entertaining to read than this graphic novel. Let’s hope this series gets better as it goes on: until then, if you really want an engaging story of supernaturally tinged conspiracies, you’re probably better off with some X-Files reruns.
You’d think that people would learn to listen to the magical harbinger of doom by now.
(l-r) Grahame, Bela and Jason, the lead characters of the series.