Nothing is as it seems … in real life or online.
Writer: Ralph Tedesco
Artwork: Oliver Borges
Colors: Leonardo Paciarotti
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
What They Say:
Lukas re-enters the Ether to hunt down Marna, the woman who betrayed him at Cain’s compound. But when he finds her, Lukas realizes he’s no match for her now and stares certain death in the face. Meanwhile the creepy masked killer takes yet another victim, but begins to explore more disturbing ways of murdering his captors. Something is very wrong inside the Ether, and soon it may be too late to put a stop to the masked killer’s sadistic motives.
Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):
At the New York Gamers Expo Jordan and her brother Craig are late for the discussion they wished to attend: developers from Tancin Games were further driving the excitement for their biggest hit – the online virtual reality simulation called the Ether. As the promoter outlined limitless possibilities within this extremely convincing environment, he then turned the conversation over to Rock to highlight the advances of their headset controllers and how it used noninvasive neruo-technology, which scientists began to use on patients with brain injuries. However this is when the late girl interrupted and asked a very basic question which cause the presenters to pause: Is the controller safe? It was then did the assembled engineers begin to rattle off specifications which compared the gameplay as real to the brain but the body did not interpret the signals as tangible so no abuse is dealt to the body, in other words the user experiences an intense version of dreaming … and everyone knows you can’t be hurt in a dream. But this answer did not satisfy the siblings as they intercepted the group afterwards, isolating Miss Conway and asking if they could have a moment of her time. Once again they inquired as to the safety of the Ether, stating Onyx from their online team has gone missing after hearing his friend was killed in real life after being hurt within the game. Although she is reiterates no one can be hurt within the Ether, the designer cannot do anything without some kind of evidence and dismisses the pair in thinking Onyx is messing with them.
With Lukas still depressed by the loss of his avatar, a talk with this friend at work points him in the right direction – to go back into the Ether and take back what he has lost, but the remorseful man rejects the idea and states he is finished with the game. But it does not take long for him to chance his mind, returning to his favorite bar and finding the same admirers who once offered him a drink now give some sound advice: find the woman who killed him before named Marna and pay back the favor. And while this does sound like a good idea, with his low level and the possibility she has gained experience with this stolen gear, he has no other option than to find some easy bounties and start over, plus thanks to the skills he acquired before, this second time shouldn’t be as difficult. And yet as Lukas leaves for what he assumes will be an easy hunt, can his overconfidence once again prove to be his undoing?
As we settle into this new series and watch as Lukas finds himself preoccupied by the loss of his avatar, it was satisfying to watch his ego become deflated, writer Ralph Tedesco does not leave things with this self centered protagonist and decides to create a fascinating side story. However this is where the tangential trip takes on a well known aspect if you are familiar with isekai anime, or namely the manga Sword Art Online and more specifically the Phantom Bullet story arc. While the idea of killing players within a game is not new, the concept of destroying the online personality via murder of their real selves is something we were first introduce to via this show, although you do see something similar in The Matrix where people are harmed within the virtual environment, however this linking of online and real life is unique. Although one cannot fault Tedesco for using this uncommon literary trope to introduce the masked man, it is still interesting by allowing Lukas, Marna, Jordan and Craig to investigate him from both sides of the conflict instead of being isolated on either side of the Ether. However as our hero once again teams up with the person who caused this indignation, it is unbelievable to see Lukas accept help from the one who originally betrayed him, bringing up the notion that he does not learn from his mistakes … or further fueling the premise his personality is grand enough to think he can outwit this new ally in the end and reclaim what was stolen to earn in both material and mental faculties. Whichever is the case, it will prove to be a compelling method to unfold this melding of the imaginary with the real world and how technology can influence our lives, so much that we cannot separate the boundary and become caught up by its inevitable downfall when one or both collapses.
One cannot deny the environments this series of are unique, and with the slick artwork of Oliver Borges creating an interest in the real world and the Ether via his a fluid transitions, and while it is at times difficult to tell the difference until Leonardo Paciarotti applies his amazing selection of both grounding and electronic tones, but at the same time those same shades also create a problem. Borges portrays his illustrations in a frenetic style that at times lack any delineation within busy panels, instead focusing on the forefront people and any occupying crowds with nondescript body shapes which merge into a blur of chaos, leaving the separation of elements to the colorist. However when Paciarotti dives into this mess with splashes of generalized color and blobs of pink for skin tones, there is not much improvement, but thankfully these moments are rare between the detailing of close-ups in which both skills are efficiently utilized. And yet even during these centralized moments it appears the palette is off kilter as skin tones are over emphasized by light or shadow, and when we are within the Ether the vivacity of electronic colors overwhelms your senses as Paciarotti tries too hard to propel the reader into a futuristic world. Although these minor faults are excusable as readers adjust to a world which may be foreign, the norm of a real place is disturbing since it seems the two locations are becoming interchangeable with an array of visual changes that are merging into one; hopefully as the title continues, there will be some separation as we venture into a place which may deny us a chance to overcome our inability find a safe place between the two.
Unbound is becoming an interesting title, but at if one is familiar with the subject matter it takes away from the interest of Lukas’ plight by leaving us with a sense of déjà vu which one cannot ignore. However as Jordan and Craig add to the tale with a new venue of exploration, there seems to be an opening for further venues that make the story more open to other possibilities. And with artwork which leads the reader toward those new horizons, hopefully the future will garner a better chance to see our hero improve himself, otherwise his adventure will be short lived even if it would prove satisfying to see our egomaniac taken down a few notches.
Age Rating: T (for Teens)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: November 27, 2019