Nonplayer #1

A comic review article by: Morgan Davis
ADVANCE REVIEW! Nonplayer #1 will come out on April 6, 2011

There’s a strange kind of poetry to the fact that Image is currently hedging its bets on two series that take a positively Philip K. Dick-like view of social networking. First to debut was Nick Spencer’s Infinite Vacation, which dove into a natural meta-commentary on the evolution of digital interaction and now we have the splendid Nonplayer following closely behind.

Similarly uniting the two is the notion of addiction. Nonplayer in particular paints an alluring portrait of a world within a world, a cyber-reality that’s like World of Warcraft painted over the world itself and thus even more soul-sucking and addicting. That comparison is particularly apt since creator, writer and artist Nate Simpson comes from a video game background. Simpson, who has traditionally done concept art for video games, spent several years teaching himself how to write and draw for comics and Nonplayer is the result.

So it makes sense that Simpson knows how to make the world of Nonplayer seem deliciously vivid and enticing -- every panel of Nonplayer’s game sequences makes you wish you could give up everything and live in it, as our protagonist, Dana, basically does. Because, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to let go of the responsibilities and monotony of daily life in favor of an epic adventure where we could be a fearsome hero (or villain)?

That’s the hook of the series in a nutshell and the first issue spends most of its time in Dana’s chosen fantasy world, Jarvath, where she and her game partner are pursuing “majors,” basically boss NPCs. The mystery of the series is ignited by the fact that one of their targets vanishes into thin air instead of dying. Dana sees that incident as more than just a loss of XP but as a potential sign that there’s more going on in her chosen fantasy world than meets the eye. It’s enough to make Dana more or less abandon her work and social life.

Between that very meta hook (does it mean that the NPCs are attempting to make it into the real world, perhaps?) and Dana’s abandonment of what we would deem a “normal” life, there’s plenty of reason to view Nonplayer alongside Infinite Vacation. Part of their shared ideology is undoubtedly due to the increasing role social networking is playing in all of our lives but there’s more to it than that. Spencer and now Simpson are two creators who are just doing a modern spin on the ancient idea of escape, which is as universal a concept as it gets.

So what makes Nonplayer stand out? Outside of Simpson’s incredible art, which brings to mind the sorely missed Seth Fisher, there’s also the fact that the world of Nonplayer is more visually immediate in concept than that of Infinite Vacation. That’s not a dig on Infinite Vacation at all, but that series is built around a philosophical idea rather than a visual one. Dana chooses to spend her time in Jarvath not just because her personal life is different there, but the appearance of things is vastly more interesting to her than her drab everyday life.

As comic fans, we can all identify with that -- comics as a medium have often thrived on their bright, bold colors and world-spanning stories. Even without all the buzz that has been building up about Nonplayer, it seems clear that this is a series that would have clicked with comic fans regardless. After this first issue, Dana might not be the only one wanting to stick around in Jarvath.

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