The Phoenix Requiem, reviewed by Larry "El Santo" Cruz
In fact, my only quibble with the art is that the characters don't ever seem to really emote. The characters may be angry, sad, horrified, or happy. Their facial and body expressions don't show it. Is this meant to be a reflection on the stifling primness of Victorian England? Perhaps, but in the illustrated medium, it comes across as a needlessly stiff and frigid.
As an (unfounded an totally speculative) aside, I also detect the tiniest influence of the Final Fantasy series. Maybe it's an homage, maybe it's unintentional, or maybe I'm just seeing things because I only got 4 hours of sleep last night and I'm zonked on the extra-strength Ibuprofen. (A short list of things that remind me of Final Fantasy: the logo fonts, the coeurl-like woodland creatures, and side character Petria's resemblance to FF8's Selphie Tilmitt.)
My main complaint about Requiem is the story itself. Let's start with the characters. They don't act like human beings... or, to clarify, they don't act like adults. In one part of the story, Anya loses a patient. They story goes so far as to mention that it's the first patient death she's experienced. So what happens? Anya reacts with the same mild annoyance as if she discovered the bread had molded or someone had tracked muddy footprints all over her carpet. After the funeral, she's back to giggling like a schoolgirl and accidentally falling into the arms of the devilishly handsome Jonas Faulkner.
How sweet.! No, wait a minute. I meant to say... WHAT? Now, I'm certain there are people like Anya in real life, but I wouldn't want her to be contracted to my HMO, much less being the main female protagonist of a story.
And then there's the general feel that, despite appearance to the contrary, everyone in the online graphic novel is roughly fifteen years old. Don't be fooled by Robyn's facial hair. At the slightest notion that the girl he likes needs to spend time with a patient, he'll sulk off dejected-like, start smashing things while crying on the inside, and act snippy to a guy who, until very recently, has been on the verge of death. Grown man with a military service record or whiny little emo kid? All evidence points to the latter.
Finally, the critics are right: the story does move at a pace roughly equivalent to plate tectonics. Calling something a graphic novel doesn't instantly give you license to move at a snail's pace. In print novels, the first few chapters may be slower to give the reader time to acclimate themselves with the characters and to grasp the set up. However, and this is important, things happen. For example, in Great Expectations, Pip is chased by a wanted criminal, steals dinner, and is invited to a creepy old lady's house in fairly short order. In the graphic novel field, Watchmen proceeds swiftly from the Comedian's death to introduce us to all the characters, the paranoid world about them, and the heroes' backstories -- all before the first chapter comes to a close.
And yes, there are novels out there that have lengthy set ups. The action in Hunchback of Notre Dame and Jane Eyre don't start until about long after the story begins. Both books are also mind-numbingly boring during their first halves. Quite frankly, they're skippable until Esmeralda asks for sanctuary or Jane becomes governess. The similarly attractive webcomic What Birds Know suffers from the same problem: too many scenes of characters sitting and walking before the reader gets to the climatic egg scene.
Here's the reality: The Phoenix Requiem is already over one hundred pages long. And here, we don't have the luxury of skimming to the meaty (or so I assume) middle part, because it doesn't exist yet. Though it's a somewhat overused cliché, here was a nice hook at the beginning when a mysterious stranger stumbles into a small, isolated village. But what do we get after? Outside of a mysterious death, not much. There's a lot of fat. The story could easily be trimmed down to half the length. If Requiem were a novel, the editor would be marking up whole paragraphs in red and scribbling down "unnecessary" over and over until his pen ran out of ink.
The Phoenix Requiem boils down to a series of attractively illustrated panels as the story itself spins it wheels. Ms. Ellerton may yet turn it around, but at this moment, the Requiem is an unsatisfying read. Perhaps, in a year's time, if the story manages to move somewhere, anywhere, I'll reverse my decision. Beautiful art, but no story? That's a DeviantArt portfolio, not a graphic novel.