Every comic presents its reader with a brand-new world filled with places, people, and problems interpreted through the unique eye of an artist. The real trick is making that reader want to stick around. That urge to remain, to relish every detail and nervously wait for more, is built so slowly over the course of Flavor #1 that it's almost surprising to discover when the letters page arrives. There is no single character that demands your attention or mystery that won't leave you alone. These elements are present, but they are part of a greater tapestry in which no one element is the pitch. Flavor itself is the reason to return, not just for future issues, but for repeat reading of the one in hand. It's an entirely self-assured debut, understandably confident in what it has to offer.
Tamra Bonvillain's colors invite readers to treasure each new page. They are bright and packed with pastels translating this mysterious city into a welcoming environ, at least for visitors. Buildings reflect sunlight and carefully colored tents, awnings, and other elements decorate each new turn in the road. The velocity of a bike speeding downhill is only matched by the rate your eye wants to work across this wondrous landscape. In turn, the few moments when darkness creeps in are made all the more ominous. Shadows carry meaning in this place and make it possible to sell the dangers to come without resorting to anything explicitly ugly.
In spite of the temptation to rush down alleys and throw open shop doors, Flavor #1 maintains a conservative framework. The world is built carefully with new elements allowed to breathe across multiple pages or an appropriately large panel. A single house, marketplace, or train station are all substantial enough to satisfy curiosity. So readers are left with only hints of the broader world. How the city is laid out within its walls and what may lurk beyond them are glimpsed only in a few establishing shots. Like a great appetizer, the first issue stokes appetite without providing too much before the entree arrives.
Even more purposefully this focus apportions ample time for the central trio of characters to distinguish themselves. Xoo plays to type as a young protagonist, more capable than her elders give credit, but too impatient to make it count. She is charming and a joy to watch in every encounter, evoking the best elements of an adolescent protagonist. Yet she never crosses into the realm of caricature and stands out as being a unique person within only a couple dozen pages. Her dog Buster and uncle Lim are almost as intriguing. They each offer readers a mix of personality traits and just enough information as to who they once were to instill interest in who they will become. Together the trio offers a relatable and distinguished core cast, any one of which would be enough to fuel the series moving forward.
Every element of Flavor #1 clicks. From the landscape of the city to the reactions of minor characters, this story understands how its world and all of its inhabitants function. Wook-Jin Clark tours through a world he and his collaborators already know back-to-front, and shows us just enough for it to make sense in this moment. Like taking a taxi from the airport to hotel in a new city, readers are given a hundred questions that are satisfying in their own right. It is clear the answers are out there and can be sought soon enough.
Flavor #1 is everything that a first issue ought to be. It does not simply offer readers a thesis statement and sense of story to come. It delivers its style, setting, and characters intact from the very beginning. There is no guessing to be done with this issue. It is what it is, and what it is is something truly delightful.
Published by Image Comics
On May 16, 2018
Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Wook-Jin Clark
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain
Culinary Consulting by Ali Bouzari