The Finder Library Vol. 1 by Carla Speed McNeil. "He is arrogant... He is shameless, immoral, anti-social, irresponsible. He's too slick. He's so charming, but he's callous. Cunning, and too self-assured. He is dangerous." "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly." I've long passed the point where I can still justifiably be surprised that there's some award-winning graphic novel that I've never heard of. But here we are, with The Finder Library, winner of the 2009 Eisner award in the webcomic category, a series I've never even heard of before now.
I hesitate to describe the premise, since I'm not sure I've got it right. But from what I gather, it all takes place in a future sci-fi setting where the world has been divided into various castes and tribes. Jaeger, the title character, is a half-breed, and in a very strict caste world, he doesn't really fit in. He took on the only role available to him: sin-eater, someone who takes on the punishments and sins of other people who can't bear them all themselves. His dedication to this role in his youth gave him a second title: Finder, one who is given special tasks of exploration and aid to others.
The story is divided up into three main parts: the first and longest describes Jaeger caught up in a domestic situation, and a very complex one. A male from a paternalistic, military tribe broke clan rules and married a female from a tribe where the gender roles are extremely feminized (in a traditional Western, and biological sense)--the males have breasts, and penises that are tucked into them when not in use. The man is Jaeger's military commander, and he undergoes a mental breakdown, and barricades his family from the world until he's hospitalized/arrested. Jaeger looks after the family in his absence--and starts an affair with the wife, who exists primarily in her own fantasy world. And that's without counting the children:the oldest, who's attempting to bed Jaeger, the son, who as you might imagine, is very confused (what with the breasts and all), and the youngest daughter, who is attracted to her mother's fantasy world. Jaeger feels responsibility for everyone involved, and a guilt that he's gotten so involved to begin with.
As you can imagine, it's hardly a typical sci-fi superhero story, though Jaeger certainly has the superhero background. And while I felt for the characters, I really didn't like Jaeger. He's too... well, perfect. He's the rugged individual who plays by his own rules. He's the the tormented artist searching for his muse. He's the sensitive, caring individual who also happens to be a virile and caring lover. He's great with kids, but you can't chain him down, man. He's a female fantasy, and while I don't have any problem with female fantasies (see as credentials Gossip Girl, My Little Pony, Being Erica), this particular one is a little smug for my tastes.
And yet, I still liked the story, and cared for the characters (although my dislike for Jaeger probably gave me a bit too much sympathy for the cuckolded/clinically insane and emotionally dangerous father character). But I preferred the second story, which is Jaeger trying to prevent a tribal war in the middle of the future equivalent of Disney Land (providing a clever satire on war and consumerism), and the last story, which uses the memory of Jaeger--the youngest daughter of the aforementioned family grows up, struggling to find an outlet for her own creativity. (I can certainly relate to that sentiment.) The first and third stories especially are things you'd never find in mainstream, male-oriented comics, and it's interesting that McNeil found a space to tell them using a character who's basically a more sensitive version of Wolverine. McNeil's art progresses nicely through this 22-issue volume, and the final few bits have some really great facial expressions. It's a good read, and it would probably be even better read for an early teenage female comic book reader--if you could find such a creature.
The sad thing is, this still counts as a short book review, by this blog's standards.