Native Drums (17Machine Studios) is like a Greek epic poem, but with a cabal of corporate masterminds in their orbital Olympus rather than a pantheon of gods and a genetically enhanced super-soldier in place Perseus or Odysseus. It has that straight-forward heroic adventure appeal that belies the depths of many a great narrative. Several days after finishing the first trade of this independently published comic series, I’m left pondering the significance of the question at the core of the heroine's journey.
The protagonist is agent M17, a resilient warrior as strong as she is smart. Writers are often advised to “start with action”––which, in my opinion, is just as problematic (for the purpose of engaging a new audience) as starting with a character portrait or a doxology on the nature of man. Why do I care about what’s happening? What’s really at stake? Native Drums jumps into the action at the start of issue #1, and it’s the protagonist herself that pushes the reader past any apprehension about the worthiness of the tale. Artist, Vince Riley, designed an instant charmer. Far more than just a ‘babe with a gun,’ M17 emotes with every panel, leading the reader’s feelings with her expressive eyes. She’s clever and quipy, thanks to Chuck Pascall’s dialogue; if you’ve been missing Buffy on the small screen (and already burned through the comic follow-up) M17 does not disappoint. It’s important that the creative team succeeds in making you like M17, because the central conflict revolves around the question of whether goodness––as personified in her character––can ever triumph over the pragmatism available to the truly evil. You have to believe in her as your moral stand-in for the story to work––and you do!
This question at the core of the Native Drums is a subtle but powerful one: two agents strive against each other, one encumbered with the burden of moral virtue, the other willing to do anything, hurt anyone, to accomplish the mission––which agent wins the contest? On this level, Native Drums is less a philosophical exploration than it is an affirmation of our shared human values. It allows the reader to root whole-heartedly for M17, while pondering the genuine seductiveness of abandoning one’s principles when it’s convenient to do so. In other words, as the epic struggle plays out on the pages of Native Drums, it also plays out in the reader’s heart and mind.