One of the dangers of being a bibliophile is that the battle of the to-read stacks is never-ending. This is especially true for graphic novels because hundreds of issues are published each month and even once collected into volumes, it’s nigh impossible to keep up with. Even if you could, who’s to say that even half of those are series that you’ll like? All of which forces me to rely on old tried and true methods of keeping up: recommendations and familiar authors and names. Any time one of the authors that I’ve enjoyed in the past publishes something, it goes on my to-read list automatically. It’s a pretty common strategy and one that at least in theory helps to not waste precious reading time with books I won’t enjoy. So after loving the hell out of his fantasy series Rat Queens, I decided to pick up Kurtis J. Wiebe’s one-shot series, Debris. Debris has a different illustrator (Riley Rossmo) and was published just months before the first issue of Rat Queens. It’s an interesting take on the post-apocalypse, in which humanity is being hunted by monsters of its own making.
In the far future of Debris, humanity has been reduced to a single surviving village known as Maiden in a world full of garbage. While the surviving humans struggle to get enough clean water to drink and produce their crops, enormous mechanical monsters known as Colossals rise from the garbage and attack Maiden. A young woman named Maya is nearly ready to be named the new Protector of Maiden after having trained nearly her entire life for the position. When one of the Colossals destroys Maiden’s only water supply, it is left up to Maya to find the mythical village of Athabasca, where water is fabled to be plentiful, before the Colossals destroy what is left of humanity.
Perhaps it’s unfair, but I can’t help but compare Debris to Rat Queens. Unfortunately for the former, this is not in its favor. Where Rat Queens is a brilliantly nuanced and highly entertaining feminist fantasy, Debris is a mediocre dystopian romp that tries to tackle more than it can really handle. It tries to hit some of the same notes and humor that made Rat Queens amazing but falls flat in doing so. Instead of a band of kickass heroines, Wiebe gives us Maya, a special snowflake of a main character who simultaneously is the best Protector ever seen who can miraculously take out the Colossal monsters but also manages to hit a few Too Stupid to Live notes.
It’s not that Maya is a terrible character, she’s just boring as hell. Maya has little personality of her own other than an innate talent for killing monsters and spends much of her time being simultaneously naive and kickass. It’s an odd combination that really doesn’t work well for her as a character.
There’s also a remarkable number of questions that go completely unanswered. If the back of the book hadn’t told me that humanity had doomed itself via covering the Earth in garbage, I would have no idea that this was actually Earth. And once Maya reaches fabled Athabasca, the story starts to make even less sense. In the aim of avoiding spoilers, I won’t get into the other plot holes but in short, facts revealed about Maiden and Athabasca create a story that makes less and less sense the more you think about it. I also have to wonder if the strange, rushed feel of the ending wasn’t because Wiebe was starting to work on Rat Queens. On the surface, Debris is a fun little adventure but unfortunately the plot holes and rushed ending don’t do the story any favors.
Where I will give Debris a lot of credit is the artwork. Rossmo’s art has a rough but gorgeous style that perfectly fits the brutal, difficult life of Maya and the other surviving humans. Certain panels have a charcoal drawing look to them that really complements the setting that Wiebe has created. Wiebe and Rossmo work well together in structuring the story as well. Debris is great at creating scenes that show rather than tell, which I always appreciate seeing in a medium that makes that both easy and appealing to do. The story and characterization may not be up to the standards that I would expect from Wiebe, but the artwork helps to make up for it.
While I am a big fan of developing strategies for keeping on top of my never-ending to-read pile of books, sometimes it doesn’t always work out in my favor. When I’ve loved an author in the past, it creates an expectation for further greatness. I think part of my problem in reading Debris is that I know just how good Wiebe’s writing can be. Debris was written just a few months before the start of Rat Queens and it shows glimpses of what made the latter one of the best series I’ve ever read but it never fully develops them. The girl power theme in Debris is heavy handed and never fleshed out while strange, unexplained holes in the plot cause more confusion than a well-written story should. Even with the gorgeous artwork, it’s just an okay story. Luckily, at just four issues long, it’s a short and still somewhat entertaining one. If you want a pretty little post-apocalyptic story, it’s worth a read but not one that I’d recommend going out of your way for.
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