Comic Review – Tiempos Finales, Vol. 1

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writer | artist: Sam Hiti
published by: La Luz comics

It used to be that the major small press/indie comics show on the East Coast each year was the Small Press Expo, or SPX, held each year in Maryland.

The East Coast indie landscape has started to shift in recent years, though, with the newly christened MoCCA Art Festival (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art), run each year in New York City, starting to gain much more prominence in the scene.

The big hit book of this year’s MoCCA, according to some of the comics bloggers I read, was Sam Hiti’s Xeric-funded, self-published Tiempos Finales, or End Times.

Book 1 of Tiempos Finales was available to a mass audience for the first time at this year’s MoCCA and has made something of an impact.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I quite understand why. It’s not that Hiti isn’t good – his art is great and he makes choices that few others would – but his writing is not as developed as his art and the first book of the series, despite being over 100 pages, sees precious little happen.

Tiempos Finales is the story of a quintet of Latin American villages plagued by an infestation of demons and monsters. Into this situation a holy man, Mario Roman, is called through prayer and divine intervention to these towns to destroy the demons and drive their influence from the area. And something more is going on, with machinations among demons and brewing power struggles transpiring in the background.

In the first book of the series, Roman (who, given his entrance into the story, may not be a man at all, but rather an angel or some other kind of being) travels to one the towns, draws out the demons possessing it, and kills it. There’s little interaction with the villagers, little dialogue. The issue, without being too reductionist about it, really is 100 pages of summoning, walking, and fighting.

And it’s not hard to imagine that plot producing a great comic book. Think of that, as an essential plot, in the hands of Warren Ellis, Greg Rucka, or even Paul Pope (check out the extended fight scenes in the THB 6 issues for a good example). The results could be fantastic.

The difference here, though, is that each of those creators is an excellent writer (with the possible exception of Pope, who is [just] very good). Hiti is not.

This is the danger of the writer and artist of a series being the same person. One discipline is often stronger than the other (notable exceptions exist, of course, in the form of greats like Dan Clowes, Adrian Tomine, and Chris Ware, among others). Hiti’s not a bad writer, and has obvious potential, but he seems a bit too attached to the decompressed style of comics storytelling (drawn from manga, and popularized in the anglophone market, by Warren Ellis) which expands small actions that might have only been part of a panel in a ’70s comic into a page or two or more.

Decompression, in good hands, can be a great technique. Here, unfortunately, is just makes the story drag, which is a shame, because Hiti’s art is great. He has a heavy-lined, thick-brushed style that recalls Paul Pope, but is distinct enough to clearly be a talent in its own right.

Additionally, Hiti does interesting things that are unique to visual media like comics and film, achieves effects that text simply can’t. For instance, more than once Hiti literally takes us inside the holy man’s body to show what’s happening there during a fight.

In one scene, we see the holy man’s mouth from the inside, his teeth gritted, his mouth drying from the combat.

Later, after he prays to Jesus for strength, the camera travels inside him to find Jesus replacing his heart, giving literal, visual metaphor to the idea that hearts can be bolstered by faith. These are great and unusual choices that would seem hokey in text but work terrifically as visuals.

Hiti also displays a nice design sense, giving the town airy sense of creepiness and realism.

So, given the virtues of his art, it’s a shame that the story doesn’t hold up as well. Instead, it reads like a lot of set up. And it has to be – according to Hiti’s website there are 8 more volumes of the series planned, nearly 1,000 more pages of story. Given that, one would expect later volumes to be more densely packed (the best manga, which Hiti seems to be emulating to a certain degree, both in style and format, does the same thing).

Despite the failing of the first issue, there’s enough promise here to merit a reading of the second issue of the series when it is released.

If nothing else, given the quality of his art, Hiti is certainly a new talent to watch. Hopefully, his writing will catch up to his art as the series goes on and someday Tiempos Finales, or another work of Hiti’s, will be worthy of the designation “masterpiece.

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