The Gifted is an exceptional work, something that both transcends the medium of comics and yet utilizes the medium to its fullest. It’s both refreshing and humbling to see sequential art of this quality – it reminds us comic fans that there’s more to the industry than simply recycling gritty anti-heroes and deconstructing the superhero genre.
The Gifted reminds me of a Russian doll–deceptively simple at first glance, but take the time to open it up and you find it’s made up of many different layers. I reread it several times and each read reveals more of the deeper themes and the thought that went into this work.
The comic opens with a lone wolf in a ruined world. Nature has been drained dry by man’s excesses and selfishness as a species. The theme of an ecological dystopia has become a common one in recent years.
But The Gifted brilliantly reimagines it by making an animal the main protagonist. Seen through the eyes of the wolf, a true innocent, a noble savage if you will, we fully grasp the horror of what man has inflicted onto the world.
In the first few pages, the wolf wanders a blasted landscape. No narrative is necessary – the writers are shrewd enough to tell the story through the visuals. A wise choice since the art is both singular and striking.
Washed out inks and a clever use of negative space more than adequately create a sense of a dead world. There’s a particularly haunting page in which our animal protagonist crosses the blasted wasteland – the shadows of which depict man’s destructive nature.
This subtly and clearly links man to the earth’s desolation and it’s done without having to use a single word. It’s a rare writer/artist team that can work hand-in-glove to create effective pages without much text.
The artwork is one of the book’s strongest features – Nathan C. Gooden’s inks are elegant and minimalistic, reminiscent of Japanese brushwork. He lets negative space help define the characters and settings. Each panel is allowed to breathe – there’s a sense of space and silence that’s very appealing.
The artist makes effective use of negative space and silhouettes to set each scene perfectly. One glance at a panel allows you to immediately absorb the important details. Yet I found myself constantly returning to the artwork, noticing additional details such as the factories that overshadow the farm animals.
Clearly, this visual imagery was chosen by the writers to reinforce the concept of man’s dominance over other species as well as his ongoing disregard for Mother Earth. Despite the destruction he’s caused, he cannot or will not change.
Action scenes flow seamlessly – every time a character moves, there’s a sense of weight and impact.
Despite the minimalistic style, every character seems solid and because of this, the antagonists are believable as physical threats.
The artist does an admirable job making animals express emotion without ever resorting to anthromorphizing or exaggerating the characters. Emotional scenes strike right to the heart – by the end of the book, you will have walked a mile with these animals and seen the world through their eyes.
The writing is equally accomplished. Most of the pages contain only sound effects and yet the reader never struggles to follow the action or loses interest. Each page is a work of art, beautifully illustrated and riveting.
The writers deftly express themes and character development through visual imagery rather than dialogue or exposition. After the wolf is shot, it passes through a tunnel – clearly a metaphor for rebirth and indeed, our animal protagonist is reborn.
At this point, the comic begins to pick up tempo, introducing more animal companions and bringing the conflict between man and animal to a climax.
I honestly feel that The Gifted is more than a great comic – it is a great book. It’s literature that simply happens to be in comic book format. It’s the kind of book we need if comics want to continue to reach far beyond the typical fanboy demograph.