In a magical kingdom, a coalition of orcs, trolls and giants have captured the secrets of the elven people. An undertaker’s apprentice who holds an ancient power leads a mission into a secret lair, where brutal experiments are carried out on elf captives.
Unnatural, by Terence Emanuel, is a massive endeavour, with a saga that spans generations. To give some idea of scale, this is the first book of Unnatural and it runs to more than two hundred pages. The prologue alone is around seventy pages, over the course of three chapters. The whole story spans around four decades, going into details on everything from the daily lives of the characters, politics and war, mythology and palace intrigue.
Large parts of Unnatural feel somewhat unnecessary. There are dozens of pages of storytelling which provide background and flavour, but which have little direct relevance to the story. It’s rich in ideas but could do with some pruning.
Unnatural’s art shows an artist honing their skills as they go along. Some panels, especially early on, have issues with anatomy, perspective and with limited variation in their composition. Unnatural may also benefit from an experienced letterer, who may be able to bring greater emphasis and direction to the dialogue, avoiding the few mistakes which crop up along the way
There are moments, however, where the work could belong to an entirely different artist. For example, early shading work is detailed but a little rough edged. Later in the story, this had been brought under control and if often very impressive. There are single panels, or even just figures within panels, which are real standouts. The discovery of what, for spoiler reasons, we will refer to as “a prison” is a beautifully composed abstract image.
We also get some truly batty, wonderfully dreamlike character design. Samurai giants, monocle wearing orc professors, a guy with big dogs for hands and eyeballs that pop out and float around corners. It’s a crazy adventure, frequently throwing new and fun things into the pot
Unfortunately, with such a sprawling cast, it can be difficult to keep track of who is who, and who is important. Characters arrive and take centre stage, only to quickly fall away and never be heard from again. The story moves forward and backward in time, sometimes the shift clearly signposted and sometimes only suggested.
Unnatural is very much in a manga style, and creator Terence Emanuel is clearly heavily inspired by action packed anime. As the story develops, it feels that the artist is experimenting with the genre’s visual language. In places this creates shifts in tone which feels out of place – but in later chapters this seems to have been brought under control and, while not perfect, the whole experienced develops and greatly improves
This is a strange and intriguing story. It shifts in genre and frequently moves between characters and environments, which makes it feel unwieldy, in the same way that ancient sagas are unwieldy. Its internal logic is just out of reach. It is filled with ideas and originality, whilst wearing its influences on its sleeve and lifting ideas wholesale from other media. Unnatural feels like a stream of consciousness adventure, but very clearly isn’t. After finishing, we weren’t entirely sure what we had just read.
However, we also read the entire two hundred page saga in one go. The plot seems as tangled as real life, frequently moving between inspirations, but we found ourselves thinking about it afterwards. This bizarre passion project, with its truly epic tale of immortals, of god-like powers, of ancient secrets and wars between races, is packed with ideas and potential.
Unnatural is rough around the edges, but the core of the comic is solid. If we’re honest, its probably not the sort of thing that would usually have appealed to us at first glance, but we’re looking forward to seeing where Unnatural goes next.
Unnatural Volume 1 was created by Terence Emanuel. It is currently available from Amazon in both physical and digital format.