Writer/Artist: Steve Uy
Publisher: Arcana Studio
EDITOR‘S NOTE: Jova’s Harvest is a 3 issue mini-series; the first issue will be published in November.
Ariel Carmona Jr.
Plot: In the epic battle raging between heaven and hell, Jova plays the role of harvester, serving heaven by preventing Armageddon by opposing his brother Luci, a.k.a the devil. For millennia, Jova accomplishes his task, but this century, his beloved sister and one of heaven’s angels, has struck a deal with the enemy of heaven so she may live amidst mortals with her brother.
Comments: According to Arcana's website, this is “a 3 issue ethical drama told entirely in rhyme.” And they aren’t freaking kidding, folks! The entire comic is told in rhyme, the sheer magnitude of which, from a writer’s perspective is an impressive accomplishment, and it would be more so, if it were not totally unnecessary. Actually, I think that it detracted a bit from my overall enjoyment of the book. I understand that Uy is going for the feel of an epic here, a la Milton’s Paradise Lost, or at least a comic book equivalent. Given the titanic themes involved, I can see where he’s coming from, yet I feel you can still tell a good story without being forced to employ the requisite “thees” and “thous” or a complicated rhyme scheme.
Of course, the battle raging between the forces of heaven and the hordes of hell are nothing new to fiction, having been tackled in classic literature by the likes of the aforementioned Milton and even by contemporary writers like Anne Rice in works like Memnoch The Devil. They have even been explored in the pages of comics like Spawn and Hellblazer, but it is always cool to see the retelling of an old story infused with modern artwork and novel twists. One word about the artwork in this book: it’s superb. My words cannot sufficiently do it justice. This book is full of very inviting visuals, from the full page close ups of the characters to the spectacular battle scenes and the beautifully rendered drawings of both Earth and the flames of hell.
Book One: It takes a while for one to get over one of the shocking scenes which occurs early in the tale. It’s frankly disturbing; just when we are settled down and have met our protagonist, the writer jarringly shakes our belief in what a servant of heaven should be like, and this was a great moment. I was aboard the rest of the way, not sure if I completely enjoyed or even fully understood what I was reading, but definitely wanting to see how it would turn out, and that’s a sure sign of a writer doing something right. There’s another weird scene soon after in which Jova has a conversation with an inanimate anchor. Of course an anchor from heaven can surely speak like a human in this mortal coil and the personification is sublime, if not a tad whimsical. As if this wasn’t strange enough, technology rears its head in the form of a computer which prompts Jova’s human host from the beginning of the book to suit up for a battle. As cool as that scene is, it’s not even the highlight of the first book. That honor is reserved for Jova’s alternate transportation to the “spike” where he is to do battle at the gates of hell with his brother Luci.
Book Two: The focus of book two is Jova’s fight with Luci in the "spike" as he attempts to close the gates of hell. He is informed of his sister’s deal with the devil. Morality and ethics are at the thrust of any tale with biblical implications. Part of what makes this comic unique is that it doesn’t adhere to any preconceived rules of what angels and demons should be like. A lot of the more complex themes and even the concept of limbo are presented in the dialogue between Luci and his brother. It’s as much a highlight of book two as is the artwork.
Final Word: “Tis not for mortal ears matters of heaven or hell,” says Jova to those who give him lodging and a good stew early in the book. Well, these mortal ears are attuned to talks of good independent books, and Jova confirms that Arcana is putting out some very good work.
Jova is an angel of Heaven in the form of a child. He harvests the souls of the pure to fill the ranks of Heaven. (In other words, he kills them.) Jova must also fight his brother, Luci, every century to prevent Armageddon. But Luci has grown tired of always losing their fight. Luci surrenders their latest battle quickly. He tells Jova of a deal he made with their sister. She missed her brothers, absent from Heaven for so long, so she traded her soul to Luci for a mortal body. If Jova can bring her soul back to her, she will return to heaven. But Jova’s duties as a Harvester have led to her death. The more he thinks about it, the more he suspects a conspiracy behind it.
The art style reminded me of anime with a European influence. The water colored landscapes with CGI effects created a world both alien and familiar. The angels all look like identical children, but are still unique; just like siblings in a family. The story blends elements of major mythologies, with names like “Hermes” and “Jova,” a Christian devil, and Thor’s hammer. Combined with the wasteland, this creates the impression the story occurs at the beginning of time. (But why does a poor family in a hovel have a computer with access to the internet and apparent satellite imagery?)
The book’s biggest flaw is, sadly, what the writer must have worked the hardest at. The dialogue is done entirely in rhyme. Not Etrigan the Demon rhyme; more like imitating Shakespeare’s sonnets rhyme. I can appreciate the amount of time and effort that went into crafting dialogue in such a rigid manner. And the formal style is appropriate for ancient creatures of heaven. But after 10 pages, it really starts getting on your nerves!
I see Jova’s Harvest as an art project. The writer is doing something that hasn’t been done before in comics. The story may lead to Jova realizing the flaws in God’s plans, or at least his culpability in his sister’s death. After reading two issues, I can say this is unlike anything I’ve seen in comics before.
AGH! MY POOR BLEEDING RAVAGED EYES!!!
Jova’s Harvest features quite possibly the most visually offensive colouring I’ve ever seen in a comic, with abundant computer generated textures that are particularly hard on the eye. For example, some sort of digital brush tool is used to fill in the foliage on a tree, a technique which sounds like a good way to save some time, but actually ends up looking somewhat like a magic eye picture, with the same bunch of leaves appearing again and again in a motion blur type effect. The final result is garish and somewhat surreal to look at. The textures also have no sense of depth to them; a wooden post in the foreground, for instance, has the same look as one further back, making the environments look flat and artificial and making it really quite difficult to perceive the images properly as details get lost in a morass of homogenised CGI.
A further consequence of this is that the backgrounds and the characters look quite different, as a less busy technique is used to colour the latter, with the result that the two never properly mesh; the characters and their environments seem disconnected which then harms the perception of the comic’s reality and makes it hard to engage with the story.
All of which is a terrible shame, as the art in Jova’s Harvest is otherwise very good. The character designs are particularly interesting, making good use of influences from manga and animation (the lead character Jova reminds me somewhat of Katsuhiro Otomo’s work) and the characters’ personalites come through well in the art. Uy is also a fine visual storyteller as while no especially ambitious storytelling tricks are attempted, it’s all very clear and easy to follow, which is fortunate as a confused visual narrative combined with this colouring would be too much for my beleaguered optic nerves.
As with the art, Uy does a generally very good job on the writing side of things, but threatens to undo all his good work with one dubious creative decision. Every character talks in rhyme, and that’s a bit too much for me; the problem I think is that the technique isn’t applied with as much thought as it could have been. The rhyming scheme used fluctuates erratically from line to line, and as a result, any poetic feel one should get from the dialogue is lost as it becomes increasingly tricky to keep up with the changing tempo of the text. I think Uy, if dead set on this rhyming technique, should have perhaps applied a strict rhyming scheme and stuck to it no matter what; this would have made for more clarity in the dialogue, and would also enable each character to use a different specific rhyming scheme, something that would not only make the technique as a whole less tiresome, but also give each character a further dash of individuality.
As noted above, the rhyming dialogue is a single notable flaw in otherwise strong writing; Uy shows considerable talent as a worldbuilder, giving his setting a complexity and internal consistency that gives it a sense of realism. For every fantastical idea Uy introduces, he ensures that it has a logical place in the world, making for one of the most well-realised fantasy settings I’ve seen in comics. The art helps with this, as here and there Uy takes the time to just show us this world, even if it’s not a strictly necessary in terms of story; Jova’s journey across the world to visit his brother is an excellent example of this gratuitous, but very welcome, scene-setting.
Another strength of the setting is that it makes for some interesting characterisations and interactions; Uy makes clear how this world affects the characters and their actions, making for a pleasing depth of personality to the cast. The solicitation materials make much of the moral debate at the heart of this book, and it does make for some interesting and complex interactions between the cast but at the same time does not come across as heavy handed at any point. There’s much meaningful talk of predestination and obligation, and the characters, while filling “good” and “evil” roles in the great game they find themselves trapped in, show their complexity by each trying to find some wiggle room; the “good” brother resorts to murder in order to get his job done more quickly, and the “evil” one expresses considerable weariness with the endless conflict, although of course he could be trying to pull a fast one as he is the “Devil” of the story. I certainly didn’t expect such depth of characterisation, and not only is it a pleasant surprise, but it’s well-handled too.
All in all, Jova’s Harvest is a fine piece of work. There are some unfortunate creative decisions that threaten to undermine the whole enterprise, but on the whole this more than deserves to be a hit for Arcana and Steve Uy.
But my poor eyes… someone pass me a bandage.
It’s safe to say you’re not going to find another comic like Jova's Harvest. An epic adventure written in verse, the story depicts the ancient sibling rivalry between Jova, Heaven’s Harvester, and Luci, Hell’s champion.
Here’s the twist: Jova's job is to murder pure souls, so that they can aid Heaven.
Things get more complicated when Jova’s sister comes to town, paying an unexpected visit to the mortal plane. Her appearance may throw some extra color on the impending centennial battle between Jova and Luci, as the stakes become higher than the mere well-being of planet Earth.
Steve Uy’s art style reminds me of the old Howard and Nester strips from Nintendo Power magazine, in everything from the characters’ bodies and hair to the watercolor-ish tones. Of course, Nester wasn’t likely to push a poor girl off a mountain, unless it was in the context of the latest Super Mario Bros. game. (And, looking now at the Howard and Nester archive, it seems they’re not all that similar, after all—but that’s what I thought of.) It’s almost as though the fighting scenes, bloody death, and wanton destruction are rendered more disturbing by the disarming innocence of the visuals.
The forty-page first issue packs in a lot of background and a few choice scenes of action, though things really start to get interesting in issue #2. Pay particular attention to how certain oaths are worded and you’ll get a good feel for exactly how big the conflict has grown.
As to the dialogue, ah... it’s very ambitious for any writer to attempt extended poetry, particularly the rhyming kind. It’s well beyond my abilities, anyway. There are several instances where Uy trips over meter, and others in which the text itself descends into doggerel, and this is a huge distraction from the story at hand. The sister’s lines are particularly egregious—“You scared him away/So surely for a day/You can stay and play?” On the whole, though, the device succeeds, lending a bit of whimsy to the series and imbuing it with the authority of oral tradition.
Jova's Harvest will likely resonate with fans of apocalyptic anime, Star Wars, and the Bible. In the midst of a worlds-spanning adventure between good and evil, the true intrigue begins when those labels lose meaning and the characters must choose their own paths. Creator Steve Uy has the foundations here for a grand epic.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!