The Finder Library vol.1: Outcasts, Halfbreeds, and Other Unacceptable People
Carla Speed McNeil's "Finder" comics series is one of the best works of world building I have ever encountered, something I have raved about at length in several previous reviews. I expected greatness when I picked up this book, an omnibus of the first four volumes of the story, and thankfully I was not disappointed.
"Finder," if you have not read my previous reviews, takes place on an Earth where some sort of apocalypse occurred long ago, giving rise to societies and civilizations which have hints of our culture, mixed with all sorts of strangeness. Most of the story (three out of the five volumes in this collection) takes place in or around the city of Anvard, a massive metropolis under a great and mysterious black dome which is so populated that its citizens have split the day into three shifts, in order to cut down on traffic. Anvard is ruled by a powerful group of clans, great complicated families who have been bred to look, act, and think as close to each other as is possible. Those who are not members of a clan are severely disadvantaged and discriminated against.
This is inconvenient for the Grosvenor family, whose mother, Emma, is a Llaverac (a clan of effiminate actors, fashionistas, and drama queens), but whose estranged and imprisoned father, Brigham, is a Medawar (a no-nonsense clan of soldiers, police officers, and doctors), meaning children Rachel, Lynne, and Marcie don't really fit in anywhere. It also hurts Jaeger Ayers, an associate of the Grosvenor family who serves as protagonist (you can't really call him a hero) of four of the five volumes included in this collection. Jaeger is himself of ambiguous parentage: he claims to be half-Ascian (basically, Native American), but no one knows for sure, least of all Jaeger himself. He is also a shiftless wanderer, meandering in and out of the lives of his friends and acquaintances, including the Grosvenor family, and he holds tight to his chest more than a few surprising secrets.
All of the characters are realistically three dimensional. When I first read the first volume included here, "Sin Eater Volume 1," I thought of Jaeger as being the hero of the story, even as he attempts to simultaneously help both Brigham and Emma, who want mutually contradictory things. with Emma scared to death of Brigham finding her and her children, whilst Brigham wants to be reunited with his family in order to atone for his past atrocities against them. However, especially as the story gets into the interlude "Fight Scene" and "Sin Eater Volume 2," it becomes increasingly apparent that Jaeger is not exactly a hero. Possessed of a short temper, a love for fighting, and an almost suicidal tendency to put himself in dangerous situations, throughout the story he manipulates both Emma and Brigham to see what they'll do when pushed to their edges, in a rather foolish attempt to help them overcome their problems with each other. The results are not pretty for anyone.
This is because both Brigham and Emma are extremely interesting portraits of people with mentai disorders, something which again becomes increasingly clear the longer you read the story. Emma has a rather severe dissociative personality disorder, and often finds herself mentally gone for days on end, leaving the management of the household up to her eldest daughter Rachel and the house AI Blythe. Brigham, on the other hand, has control and anger issues whose severity really starts to creep up on you as you read it. While initially it's hard to view the terrifying monster Emma remembers with the fairly affable guy we meet initially, how utterly bat crazy he is becomes naturally more and more apparent as he is pushed further and further into insanity by Jaeger's manipulations.
As for the three Grosvenor children, Rachel is perfectly written as a teen who doesn't know what she wants but knows that she wants something, who has been forced to grow up faster than she should have thanks to her mother's lack of ability to be physically present. Middle child Lynne is a terrifyingly intelligent manipulator, a master spy at only ten or so who only really cares about Marcie, the youngest. Marcie, especially in the two "Sin Eater" volumes, has only a dimmest idea of what's going on in the tumultuous world around her. She barely remembers the horror that caused her family to flee her father, but what she does remember paralyzes her with terror.
Finally, the city of Anvard (and the Disneyland-meets-1984 setting Munkyland of the fourth story, "King of the Cats") serves as a character in its own right. There are always crazy things happening in the background, and the sheer weirdness of how Anvard looks can hold your eyes for a long time. Carla Speed McNeil could seriously publish a comic that was nothing but views of random locations in Anvard, and I would snatch it up, it is that meticulously beautiful.
As mentioned in my very first paragraph, the triumph of Carla Speed McNeil's work is her world building. It is very clear that she has thought this world out extensively, and what you see in the comic is clearly but a fraction of what is going on in the world of the story. Characters who meet up with our mains always seem extremely fleshed out, as if Carla Speed McNeil knows their exact life story up to the point where they intersect with the main story-- and if you read the extensive notes she puts in the back of this volume, it becomes clear this is very true. Speaking of those notes, make sure to read them, as they add so much depth and interesting information to the reading experience, as well as give some insight into where Carla Speed McNeil gets her ideas.
All in all, this is a fantastic omnibus of one of my favorite comics series of all time. As it contains the first four full volumes (plus the interlude "Fight Scene," which goes into Jaeger's past), this is an ideal way to introduce yourself to the series. If you run into this collection, buy it immediately!
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