Best Shots Review: THE FAMILY TRADE #1

"The Family Trade" preview
Credit: Morgan Beem/Rachel Deering (Image Comics)
Credit: Morgan Beem/Rachel Deering (Image Comics)

The Family Trade #1
Written by Justin Jordan and Nikki Ryan
Art by Morgan Beem
Lettering by Rachel Deering
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

They say hope floats. But so does crime, money, intrigue and murder - at least in the world of The Family Trade, the latest Justin Jordan creator-owned series at Image. Joined by co-writer Nikki Ryan and artist Morgan Beem, this debut issue makes a gamely attempt at hooking readers in with its endearing, informal banter, but the actual world-building and real-world parallels winds up costing this book a lot of its momentum - a risky proposition given how avant-garde the art style already is.

Given the name of the title, it’s perhaps surprising that The Family Trade seems to be preoccupied more with the history of its main setting than in the archeology of characterization. Half-Venice and half-Sin City, Jordan and Ryan clearly intend for their setting the Float to be the book’s show-stopper, but right now there’s nothing about the city to play on readers’ emotions, to get them excited or scared or intrigued. So by doubling down with a lengthy image of the Float cutting across two pages, or a four-page flashback history lesson, Jordan and Ryan wind up putting the cart before the horse. Aside from the water and the family clan of assassins - the latter of which feels almost like an afterthought in this first issue - there’s not much that sets The Float apart from any other city. And when Jordan and Ryan go for the low-hanging fruit by inserting a Donald Trump stand-in as their political villain (a lying, egomaniacal blowhard with a combover promising to “make the Float glorious again”), it makes the book’s setting feel more scattered rather than specific.

Which is a shame, because the main character does seem to have some potential - if Jordan and Ryan can bring some focus and specificity to her story. It’s a little telling that Jessa isn’t named in the first issue until the afterword by Jordan, but there’s not a whole lot to her character thus far, beyond the fact that she wants to join the family trade of assassination, but doesn’t quite have the stomach to pull it off. While Jordan and Ryan prove deft with their pacing in the action sequences as Jessa fights through a gang of bodyguards before diving out of a window, Jessa’s voice still feels a little run-of-the-mill irreverent, and we bounce from danger to danger so fast that we don’t actually get a sense of personal stakes here. Why does Jessa want to go into the family business? Why should we root for her? What do we have in common with her, beyond not being able to speak cat?

But if Justin Jordan has proven any one talent in his career, it’s that he has a clear eye for memorable artistic talent - and artist Morgan Beem is no exception. But whereas Jordan’s breakout Luther Strode series debuted an obvious powerhouse in Tradd Moore, Beem’s work might be a bit more divisive in the direct market. Punctuated by kinetic action sequences that have her characters bend like rubber bands as they snap to the next kick, Beem’s linework is jagged and cartoony in a way that I don’t often see Image books portrayed as - it’s got hints of James Stokoe, Rafael Grampa and Sonny Liew, but her coloring is something that might be completely unique, evoking a David Mack kind of sensibility. Painterly and etherial, it’s Beem’s colors that I think ultimately define The Family Trade’s visual style - but it may also be ahead of its time. Her work certainly doesn’t look like any other book Jordan or Image has done in recent memory, but that could alienate fans just as much as attract them.

Regardless, Beem’s work is risky and bold in an industry that desperately needs innovation - even if The Family Trade as a whole could probably use a tune-up in terms of characterization and pacing. There’s plenty of potential for Jordan and Ryan’s high concept, but right now they seem to be resisting the endearing hooks, diving instead into the murky waters of spectacle rather than substance. There’s probably a very engaging character underneath all the history of the Float, and hopefully this creative team can tap into what makes Jessa tick before readers decide to trade up elsewhere.

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