Shahidah El-Amin is a scholar and adventurer–representing the legendary House of Wisdom of Baghdad’s Islamic Golden Age–and she might be a few steps away from finding the key to unlocking eternal life. That is until her old friend Ling betrays her. Can Shahi find immortality before it falls into the wrong hands? Welcome to the history-infused adventure world introduced in Image Comics’ Compass #1.
Compass moves at a break-neck speed, and you’ll hit the last page almost as soon as you open the book. But not before your imagination is filled with Medieval castles, Mongrel armies, Welsh landscapes, and Middle Eastern knowledge-seekers. It hits a lot of the adventure story notes that we’re all-too familiar with thanks to Indiana Jones, but there are stark differences that keep this from being entombed in the derivative. For one thing, where some of Indy’s adventures centered around Judeo-Christian artifacts, Compass hones in on ancient Islamic history that will be fresh to a Western audience. And, while you can see Ling’s betrayal coming from a mile away, her character doesn’t quite meet the villainous archetype that acts as a foil every time the hero is just within reach of their goal. Ling seems conflicted, and, even more importantly, she’s not the big bad of the story. That honor belongs to a much more menacing force–one that promises to heighten the conflict in upcoming issues.
You can also tell that the world that creators Robert Mackenzie, David Walker, and Justin Greenwood (with the support of Greg Rucka) have crafted is incredibly well-researched. Many characters, settings, and organizations are picked right from the pages of history, lending authenticity to this adventure story that carries fantasy notes.
With all those positives, the end of the issue still left me wanting in an unsatisfactory way. While Shahi’s charisma makes her a notable character, I felt like I didn’t get enough time to engage with her as a human (albeit a fictional one). Does she have any deeper motivations beyond a need for adventure? What are her flaws? While these questions will inevitably be answered in subsequent issues, the world of comics is ripe with stories to be told and only so much time (and resources) to engage. I feel like we only scratched the surface of the story that’s meant to be told, and oftentimes, scratching the surface makes it hard to retain interest in picking up the next issue.
But, man, what a beautiful surface we scratched. I loved absolutely every minute of the artwork. The action is easy to follow, and you almost feel like you’re there stumbling through crumbling castles. Faces are expressive, the violence hits the right punch without being too gratuitous, and the coloring is transportive.
Compass #1 is a fast-paced introduction to a globe-trotting, Islamic-inspired adventure story that is sure to thrill fans of Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, and Uncharted with its novel approach to a narrative involving a hero in search of an ancient artifact. While it’s a little scant on narrative depth, there’s enough direction and historical inspiration that it’s sure to immediately win some loyal fans.
Historical Drama Blending East and West8.0/10
Scratching the Surface of Character Depth5.5/10
- Writers: Robert Mackenzie and David Walker
- Art: Justin Greenwood
- Colors: Daniela Miwa
- Letters: Simon Bowland
- Publisher: Image Comics