Shadow cabi­net

Trust no one. The Cryp­toc­racy runs the world from the shad­ows.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Re­view by TER­ENCE TOH star2@thes­ Cryp­toc­racy is avail­able at Ki­noku­niya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail: ebd3_kbm@ ki­noku­ or visit­noku­

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.

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