Dicebox: Working Your Way Across The Universe
This comic is fascinating. Written and drawn by Jenn Manley Lee, it details the meanderings and quotidian adventures of two women, Molly and Griffen, as they hitch rides on starships and work in factories and the like on a variety of terraformed planets to support themselves. Both have mysterious and dark pasts (particularly Griffen) they are trying to escape, and their rich and complicated history between themselves and the people they meet gives a real sense of depth to the world Lee has created.
The closest thing I can compare it to is Carla Speed McNeil's "Finder," to which it has some similarities (wandering protagonist or protagonists with dark pasts and somewhat grey moralities, a simultaneously futuristic and modern-day kind of setting, dialogue-heavy stories, and loads upon loads of intriguing side characters who turn up throughout the plot), and McNeil even gives a very favorable blurb on the back cover of the volume I read, subtitled "Wander", the first of a proposed four books that will contain the story of "Dicebox". Anyone who likes "Finder" would almost certainly like "Dicebox," and vice versa.
However, one of the major differences between the two works is that "Finder" has extensive footnotes in the back of its collected volumes, while "Dicebox" has nothing like it. "Finder" ironically enough, is usually written so that you don't actually need McNeil's notes to enjoy the story, although they always enrich it, while Lee often throws at the reader references to past events, cultural touchstones, and characters we never meet (for instance someone named Chik who apparently stole all of Griffen and Molly's stuff in the past), making it seem like I had missed a previous volume in the series. It never gets too bad, and as the story becomes less meanderings through space and develops more of a plot it becomes easier to comprehend, but it can be a little intimidating and disorienting to read.
A related problem is that the story occasionally will skip forward in time without notice, again leaving me feeling a bit disoriented. This is mostly because of its original form as a webcomic, but it still confused me on occasion, for instance when I didn't realize that Molly and Griffen had left one planet and gone to another because Lee skipped over the voyage in between. Again, this issue diminishes as the story begins to develop a plot, and is overall only a case of minor confusion in practical terms.
All in all, this comic is a fascinating and intriguing meander of a story, with two interesting and complex women at its center. Lee has no problem making both Molly and Griffen both morally grey and occasionally somewhat unlikeable, which I appreciated. I also liked their relationship together, which was clearly one of extremely deep but platonic love (the two are married and each other's closest confidants, although they are not sexual with each other--Molly appears to be gay while Griffen appears to be straight) , mixed with arguing, bickering, and giving each other crap about past mistakes they've each made. This relationship and the way it interacts with the characters they encounter--Griffen's son and her former underling from a past life, a mysterious mystical figure of ambiguous gender who gets on Molly's nerves, a mother and daughter team of fiery redheads who run a working crew that the two join on occasion, a pair of government agents with a keen interest in Griffen, and a tailor who runs a criminal empire out of his shop, to give a few examples--are what carries the reader through the book, and both make it well worth reading.
If you are intrigued by this review, the comic can be found online at www.dicebox.net. The first nine chapters have been collected together as "Wander" and published together as a physical book, which if you track down you should read. All in all, a fascinating comic and one that I look forward to reading more of.
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