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Review: ‘The Family Trade’

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The Family Trade
Written by Justin Jordan & Nikki Ryan, illustrated by Morgan Beem
Image Comics, $16.99
Rated T for Teens

A fairly standard story about a teen assassin working to save her fantasy world is distinctive only due to its art and coloring.

The Free Republic of Thessala, aka the Float, is an independent city-state in the middle of the ocean, a center of commerce and diplomacy. Jessa is a young orphan member of the Family, a loosely related gang of thieves and assassins that secretly run things behind the scenes, led by the Bookmaker.

The Family Trade

She’s got skills, but when she goes rogue in an attempt to kill off a pompous, rich politician, she puts into motion a plan that risks everything. Her uncle tries to protect her, while her know-everything cousin eggs her on.

Her target is a thinly disguised Trump figure, described as “a moronic blowhard who lies with every breath”, but he’s popular with crowds. She’s trying to tell her Family how much of a risk he is, but she’s set aside, particularly since she keeps getting discovered when trying to be sneaky. For all we hear about her skills, they seem mostly like James Bond, in that she survives being captured a lot.

The detailed, painted art feels European, with dense settings, flat layers, and caricatured faces. The muted palette of grey, green, and lavender, often used for monochrome pages, gives the whole thing the feel of a coastline (suitable for the setting) or a dream-like memory. It’s lovely, but it sometimes works against building a feeling of suspense. It’s relaxed, even when we’re supposed to be worried about Jessa’s survival.

This isn’t too far away from a dystopian YA novel, and readers of such might find it fun to see a comic book version, particularly if they find the satire of the President amusing. (Others may find it obvious, particularly once the character keeps repeating, “No puppet. You’re the puppet!”) Jessa is less a character than a plot device, with the reader never truly understanding her motivations or why she makes the initial choice she does, for all that we’re reading her monologues.

It’s easier to follow the twists and turns of the story in this collected edition, but it somehow slips away from the memory after reading. There’s nothing substantial or meaningful here, just an escapist fantasy adventure where Jessa fights soldiers in every chapter and grumbles about not being trusted. The casual acceptance and portrayal of violence makes this for older teens only.

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Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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