One Volume 1: Just One Breath
Sylvain Cordurié (writer), Axel Gonzalo (colours), Živorad Radivojević (artist)
October 16, 2019
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Julian Lethercore may seem quiet and observant but there is a reason why: Julian can read minds. He was the subject of an experiment that was meant to save soldiers’ lives in battle, and the mind-reading was an unintended consequence.
He isn’t the only one. There are four others. But one of them, Winters, has gone missing after a meeting with his target. Winters meant to intercept the diplomat Nathaniel Dresden, who is bringing peace to the world. But there’s something not right about him. And now with Winters’ disappearance, it is up to Julian to find the truth and take Dresden down.
Stories about super-powered characters have always intrigued me—and most comic readers! Which is why I wanted to review One Volume 1. It’s also a thriller and espionage story, which makes it a triple whammy of my favourite genres.
One Volume 1 is a bit of a slow burn, however. We aren’t immediately introduced to Julian, and when we do meet him, it’s via a romantic setting that gives us no inkling of what Julian’s role is and why we should be interested in him. In fact, had you begun reading this book without looking at the blurb, you would think the story was set to follow Carol, a hard-nosed journalist who is trying to understand why the government isn’t letting the press in on some of the biggest peace deals the world has ever seen.
But the story swiftly moves away from Carol and her journalist friends. Instead, we get Julian’s monologue about his powers and what he can ‘see’ from Carol’s friends. Of course, it’s all sleazy, and they’re made out to be lonely, desperate people. Only Carol is pure and saintly. Why that is, we never get to know. Julian doesn’t take the reader into Carol’s mind the way he does the other characters, so we only have his word for it. This part of the plot is then abruptly abandoned.
It is only after this introduction that Julian is sent on his real mission, and it is the most interesting part of One. Julian using his powers to get to the people closest to Dresden so he can ‘read’ him is thrilling and well-plotted. Unfortunately, it’s also a very small part of the book; far more page space is spent on the political machinations surrounding Julian’s mission than on the actual mission itself.
I’m all for world building in a science fiction book, but in One there was far too much, which resulted in very little plot. We learn about Dresden’s rise to power, the about-face of President Harmond in his political motivations. We even learn all about Julian’s boss, Pershing, and his fall from grace. Most of this is shared with readers through pages of exposition. At one point, a character even tells a monologuing colleague that he already knows everything he’s just told him. So the two-page long monologue was solely for the reader’s benefit! Which is worse than exposition for plot development. Had that line of dialogue been left out, it probably wouldn’t have called our attention to the exposition. ‘Show, don’t tell’ isn’t something One does well at all.
In addition to the endless exposition, this book suffers from far too many concurrent plots. It’s not so much confusing as it is distracting. I found myself wanting to go back to Julian’s mission and getting annoyed that we were focusing on characters who didn’t seem to have any bearing on the primary plot. What I would have preferred in One would be to understand more of Julian’s inner workings. Though his perspective of the story is relayed primarily through his monologue, rather than dialogue, it was far more interesting than anything else I encountered in the book. And this is coming from someone who really dislikes monologues—it’s one of the reasons why I’ve got really tired of Tom King’s Batman run. Comics are a great medium for dialogue; they thrive on it. But a well-created monologue can be just as effective. Julian’s monologues explain a great deal about how his powers work—which wouldn’t have been easy to understand if you relied solely on the art. In fact, when I looked at some of the art before getting to the dialogue, the panels looked rather odd.
This is primarily because Julian’s mind-reading gifts work in a rather unique fashion. Instead of just being able to psychically link to another mind—a la Professor Xavier and Jean Grey—Julian needs some kind of physical substance, gaseous or liquid in form, to ‘read’ his subjects. It makes for some interesting interactions, to say the least, which is why his monologue is so necessary. But, as I’ve mentioned, we don’t get nearly enough of Julian in this book, and that is to One’s detriment.
The art by Živorad Radivojević is good, but the pages are far too busy, especially during the setup in the first few pages. There are panels within panels and so many overlapping sections that it was often impossible to rest on any part of the page. I also felt that too many characters looked the same—I struggled to tell them apart which made reading One a chore.
Though I enjoyed the concept of One and its unique take on a staple comic book superpower, there was too much happening in the book to be a cohesive story. And there was too much exposition, making the book a needlessly dense read. I wanted to be excited for One but this story left so much to be desired.