I don’t think that there is another comic book writer out there who can capture the full essence of what life is like for that confusing period between teenager, and adulthood better than Bryan Lee O’Malley. His two previous works, Lost at Sea and Scott Pilgrim, are near perfect explorations of the lives of characters who are, just like the young adults they represent, a little lost and messed up in the head. Now O’Malley returns to the world of writing after a four year break with his latest work, Seconds, which, while not surpassing his previous works, is equal to them both in terms of its artistic quality and writing brilliance.
The story seems simple enough at first; it follows the life of Katie, a 29 year old 5 star chef and business owner who, at the start of the story at least, seems to have everything in life working out for her. At least, that is, until she has one terrible day that threatens to end her happy life. That’s when she is visited in the night by a strange girl named Liz who gives her a magic mushroom and says that if Katie eats it, she can have a ‘do over’ of any mistake she made in her past; the only catch is that she can only use this power once. As you can imagine, Katie ignores this rule, and use the mushroom again and again to try and make her life perfect, completely unaware of the consequences of her actions.
Like both of O’Malley’s previous works, the true brilliance of the writing shines not through the plot, but rather through the exploration of the characters. You are, in the first few pages of the work, given a pretty accurate and expansive overview of the character of Katie. She is a person who is adrift in life, seemingly stuck between relationships and jobs, having found likeable substitutes for both, but not the real thing. She also seems prone to rash decisions, quick to emote anger and happiness, passionate, a little self centered and very hands off her own life; a very likeable if equally flawed character. However, what elevates Seconds above its contemporaries is that, as the book progress, we slowly find out more about Katie, both undiscovered aspects of her personality and life, and how they have affected and shaped her.
As stated above, the story involves Katie reversing time to ‘do over’ chosen mistakes; this shows the reader how Katie’s mistakes have shaped both her life and personality by comparing them to a Katie who has made no mistakes at all. Both the plot and character growth perfectly complement one another and help support each other as the story evolves. All of this is done in a fairytale-esque story frame that works well within the somewhat magical elements of the plot, and culminates in a highly entertaining climax that drips with symbolism.
The art works well for the story, and is a continuation of the Sunday cartoon/manga style that O’Malley has made all his own. Lots of the characterization is conveyed by the Chibi styled facial expressions and character actions, which also pulls double duty as one of the books primary comedic sources. The softer colors and lines also work to juxtapose the often times quite serious and emotional aspects of the plot, working well to create an overall enjoyable and highly polished finish.
This is a highly enjoyable book. Its story works well, blending together excellent characterization and plot to create a near-perfect story. Its artwork both supports and juxtaposes the nature of the story, providing instances of joy, laughter and emotional pain. It is simply brilliant and a must read for anyone.
Five out of five stars.