Review - Amber Blake #1 (@IDWPublishing)

"Each success like yours gives me such joy."

Schools for gifted and talented students aren't a rarity by any stretch of the imagination. They're geared to provide enhanced studies and challenges for students who might otherwise find things too easy. In Amber Blake #1, one such school offers challenges that are both academic and life-oriented. The issue is written by Jade Lagardère, illustrated by Butch Guice, and lettered by Christa Miesner and Robbie Robbins.

Amber Blake was only a child when she was recruited to the Cleverland Institute, a school for gifted children. But predators hide in the school's administration, abusing the children they're meant to protect, and, on the verge of exposing them, Amber finds herself fleeing for her life from the very man who recruited her. But she's not dead yet-and she's not the only one who wants to see Cleverland's leaders burn.

Lagardère drops a lot of exposition on the reader in an extremely compressed issue--something that could have been overwhelming but thankfully isn't. It doesn't feel like too much for the reader because Lagardère relies on certain tropes to help the reader fill in some of the gaps. As a character, Amber Blake is a pretty much a by-the-numbers leading heroine in that Lagardère gives her all the talents in the world and a life-altering event to provide motivation for the back-half of the story. Up to that point though, it's a little tough to discern what exactly is motivating Amber at the Cleverland Institute (which constantly looks like Cleveland Institute) as Lagardère tries to provide characterization through her interactions with other characters. Those interactions are punctuated by dialogue that feels a little erratic at times as Lagardère struggles to keep up with her own pace by rapidly transitioning from scene to scene (even if it's a seemingly counterintuitive scene switch).

Guice illustrates the book as a means of emphasizing the spy and espionage angle of the the story. To that end, the linework is subtle throughout the issue with Guice staging the characters amidst one another and backdrops that make it relatively easy to keep up with what's what. That being said, none of the characters feel as if they're infused with life; rather, Guice draws them all as frozen moments in time. Granted, art is just that--a moment frozen in time--yet there's something that just feels unnatural about the way the characters look in each panel. The colors skew very dark and ominous which feed into the spy atmosphere being conveyed by the story in general.

Amber Blake #1 is an ambitious first issue that moves at a breakneck pace and throws an abundance of story elements at the reader. The title character is being forged in response to the events around her, most of which aren't positive and will likely have ramifications down the road. Lagardère's script is a little scattershot in terms of transitions from events and dialogue, relying on the reader to fill in quite a few gaps in establishing context. Guice's artwork is a good fit for the book tonally, although it does feel robotic at points. Amber Blake #1 spins a lot of plates in the beginning that it might have trouble keeping going as the series unfolds.

Amber Blake #1 is available now.