Review: A Distant Soil – The Gathering

4/5 stars. Buy at: Amazon | Barnes and Noble

A Distant Soil: The Gathering by Colleen Doran is a fantastic and beautiful space opera in comic format. “The Gathering”, in particular, is a graphic novel compilation of the first 13 issues of the late 80s/early 90s era of her comic (still ongoing, though after a long hiatus, so currently up to issue 42). Doran came up with the story when she was twelve, and originally published the early issues when still in high school. 

I chose this book for the #readproud June challenge Wild Card category because I know that most of the people I know aren’t familiar with it, and I wanted to bring it to a larger audience. Having last read it in my teenage years I was looking forward to revisiting it!

Teen siblings Liana and Jason are psychics, being experimented on by a terrible government agency; when they finally break out, they imagine they’ll finally be free—but their powers came from their alien heritage, and two warring alien factions take advantage of their being out in the open to snap them up, one each, to try to use in their political striving. Jason is captured by the evil Hierarchy; Liana, the protagonist, ends up being rescued by a pair of alien rebels (and lovers, both male) who are hoping to overthrow the Hierarchy. Since Liana seems to be the next Avatar—in other words, super-powered psychic—of their people, she seems like the best place to start a rebellion. If you liked “Jupiter Ascending”, I imagine you’ll love this early take on a similar idea!

A Distant Soil is notable for a lot of things—it’s one of the first US graphic novels created solely by a female writer/artist, and also one of the earliest comics to feature openly gay characters (Rieken and D’mer, the pair of aliens who are trying to overthrow the Hierarchy), as well as presenting them as the romantic leads. The art is lovely (and improves drastically across the series as well, which one would expect as the artist aged and gained more practice; she actually redid the first 300 pages a few years after starting) and the characters are treated with sensitivity and love. The cast includes quite a few poc, as well (including D’mer, and three of the major secondary characters). In general it’s a book with a lot of inclusion in it.

It’s also just a lot of fun. The characters are entertaining, the storyline is wide-sweeping and epic, and the villains are genuinely threatening. With a intense and quick-developing story, it still takes time to develop its leads. You pick up bits of their tastes throughout, and see a lot of their personalities—rather than focusing solely on the plot, you get plenty of scenes of, for example, Rieken getting distracted by new disguises to pass as human, and see D’mer’s relentless teasing of him. It wants to tell its story, but not without making us come to love the cast first.

The problem with this volume is primarily in its subtitle, “the gathering”. The main story of the Ovanian Hierarchy, the Avatar and the Resistance, and the confused half-alien children is compelling and strong. However, this volume also includes a large amount of Rieken and D’mer trying to find people willing to help them, and this large number of wacky secondary characters occasionally feels like a distraction from the main story. It even includes an Arthurian mythological character, Sir Galahad, who falls through a space-time rip. I assume they all will have skills that will come into play later, but it does read very much like a Getting The Team Together arc. Regardless, I’d say it’s well worth getting through the actual gathering part of the Gathering for the rest of the content within.

I haven’t reread the rest of the volumes yet, but previously I owned vols 1-3 and I see now there’s a volume four out now—that’s something I’m going to have to grab, because now that I’ve come this far in my rereading, I don’t want to stop!

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