Writers: Justin Jordan, Nikki Ryan / Artist: Morgan Beem / Image Comics
Beginning as a quirky assassin’s tale, The Family Trade reveals itself as a thinly-veiled allegory to the rule of Donald Trump. It has all the weapons that, while interwoven with enough wit to balance the parallels of real life with character-driven endearment, flicks speedy jabs at a steady pace rather than beat you over the head. There is a democratically-elected leader who is elected in less-than-democratic fashion; there are descriptions of his rise to prominence, how “great crowds of people support him… They say they are not listened to.” It continues:
“They are not wrong. They are foolish for thinking a man like [him] could possibly be better, but they are not wrong.” Eventually we read mention of the “outlanders” and “freeloaders,” and then a “Make America Great Again” analog and, okay, The Family Trade does beat its allegory in. Put the villain aside though and you have the more charming element of the comic in the form of a would-be assassin, Jessa, a teacher by day who moonlights in an underground League of Shadows-esque group that maintains order and societal balance.
We are guided by her inner dialogue through most of the issue, more than half the words spoken to herself than by or to an external person. It sets the tone of what you would imagine an assassin’s work to be: quiet, with a lot of self-reflection. We are privy to her thoughts and thus to her inner struggles as she narrates for us, aware of her audience, sharing the history of the Free Republic of Thessala, colloquially known as “the Float,” where she and her family operate in secret. The main conflict is less of assassinating the demagogic leader, but more of her role in the family – the difference between where she stands and where she wants to be, and the decisions that influence both. As we learn more about our setting and, more importantly, the rest of the family, we can expect that conflict to rise closer to the surface in the vein of “rebel who stands up for what they believe in and suffers before proving their point.” You can suspect Jessa’s status will get a lot worse before it gets better, and that’s where the fun will live for readers.
Artistically, the water-color vibe took a moment of adjustment as the style doesn’t immediately lend itself to the shadow-filled darkness we typically associate with assassins or espionage. Still, it doesn’t take long before it fits, and action scenes’ pacing are fast, thrilling, and, coupled with Jessa’s internal dialog, a whole lot of fun. She seems to be acrobatic enough that you aspire to her abilities, but human enough that they don’t feel so far out of realism’s range. We teeter back and forth between a few flashbacks and landscapes, a muted color palette separating the present from the history of the Float, and the geography of the ocean-based city makes for an interesting setting, a world to its own.
Overall, The Family Trade is a solid start with a foundation to build on: a likable protagonist, an interesting world, and an inner conflict to grow. What it needs next is character depth, both on the parts of Jessa and the family around her, and we might have an enchanting new book on our hands. Worth sticking around for issue #2 to find out.