"Scatterlands" is the story of a woman on the run. She is literally cutting through the living organism that is the city, while being followed by some religious protectorate types, her own people, and a living anti-body. It's Warren Ellis exploring the topic of living cities in a new way, with Jason Howard showing a different set of impressively artistic chops that you wouldn't know about judging just by "Super Dinosaur" and "Astounding Wolf-Man." While it can be needlessly complex in its language at times and might not make total sense, it's a lot of fun to read.
Originally presented as a daily one-panel webcomic, "Scatterlands" translates well into a singular comic book, where it's far easier to keep in mind all of the details that make up the world you're reading about. Ellis' caption work -- there are no word balloons -- spell out enough to keep you in the story, sprinkling in outlandish turns of phrase and ideas just often enough to keep you from getting too comfortable. ("The citystate of Bioming was long dead, its rootstock poisoned by paraquat harpoons.") This is more than a book about a girl on the run. This is a "Heavy Metal"-esque fantasy tale filled with imagination and adventure. If the captions are a bit much at times, it's OK. It adds a certain flavor to the book, which is still understandable.
Howard's art is well suited to the tale. He loosens up his style a bit, approaching "Scatterlands" with a line that might remind you of Guy Davis' work. It's a little scratchier with a lot of attention paid to scratchy lines to create textures and shadows. Howard keeps multiple planes in each panel to create a three dimensional effect, varying the angle into each scene to keep the reader looking around. He's conscious that every page is a single panel, and so worries slightly less about the panel-to-panel continuity and more about the impact of each individual image.
On top of all of that, Howard's colors make the art pop with a very simplistic palette. It's a black and white strip done with lots of grays and a single shade of orange to highlight blood, some backgrounds, and spotted color effects. It works in some panels as a focal point, and others as a storytelling device to show the city's blood, for example. If you want to see a strong use of limited colors, this is a great place to start.
The digital comic looks great on the iPad. The single panels fill a landscape-oriented tablet much like a 2.35:1 ratio movie might. The text is clear to read, and the art is beautifully rendered. You can even zoom in on it without losing detail or dropping to pixelated lines.
"Scatterlands" is a blast of beautiful artwork and storytelling, done for a tale that's a little obtuse. For the price, though, you can't complain. Reading it all in one sitting certainly helps pull the world together for you more than reading it five times a week for months. "Scatterlands" #1 collects the first 50 panels, and more are coming up soon at Scatterlands.com.