Destination X by John Martz

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsDestination X by John Martz

DESTINATION XI’ve recently become a fan of Nobrow Press: They put out unique, and often small, runs of graphic novels that stand out as special works of art because of the high level of paper, binding, and printing techniques. Each graphic novel is sized differently to suit best the artwork inside, and in the case of Destination X, the book is a small, square volume. Each book stands out and looks and even feels unlike any comic book or graphic novel I’ve ever seen.  Destination X by John Martz is a little less colorful than some other Nobrow selections, but the choice of color scheme is appropriate for the short, puzzling parable that is Destination X.

Destination X is difficult for me to rate because it seems to lack development as a story, and the characters are given little depth as well. But let me be clear: I do not think these are flaws in Destination X because these “flaws” seem to have purpose and to be intentional on the artist’s part: Martz tries to keep the story short, and he manages to convey character masterfully in a quick manner. The back of the book suggests that Destination X is a parable, and if considered in that light, the graphic novel cannot be faulted for following the conventions of the parable. It’s a short work about dreams and hopes tied to family and childhood stories. But it’s also about the struggle to manage those as an adult when reality gets in the way of our vision.

destination xThe nature of the parable would be ruined by too much detail and backstory. The parable sketches briefly a situation that is uniquely memorable but thematically universal, and from that viewpoint, Destination X is a success: Sam Weems, the main character, dreams of being a great space explorer because he has heard his grandfather tell stories of traveling in space and meeting intelligent beings at the rumored “Destination X.” Sam’s childhood friends mock him for his believing his grandfather, and as an adult who goes into astronomy and space exploration, his co-workers continue to mock his belief in the still unproved existence of Destination X. Eventually, Sam will get on a rocket and go into space himself.

This story, since it is a parable, has an unreal quality throughout. The line between fantasy and reality is hard to distinguish, and one can read this book on multiple levels. I’ll suggest two. First, one can read the story as I did in the previous paragraph. Secondly, one can argue that because the line between fantasy and reality is hard to distinguish, the entire parable IS fantasy, and perhaps a child’s fantasy at that. In the first interpretation, it seems as if Destination X is merely a story about growing up. But the second interpretation suggests that the story may be about how a child might imagine it would be like to grow up. The childhood scenes and fantasies seem very realistic, but the scenes once he’s adult seem too simplistic unless seen as a child’s view of the world. But then again, parables often try to make us see the complications of life in a simplistic way to jar us out of the rut of our thinking. In other words, I think both interpretations of the parable are possible, and the fact that both readings work simultaneously makes Destination X a much richer work than it appears on an initial, quick read. The problem with parables is that those who hear them often do not spend time with them because of their deceptive simplicity and brevity.

I’m sure there are other ways to approach this parable. The fact that the entire story is told in black, white, and light purple makes it even harder to know where to draw lines between reality and fantasy, childhood and adulthood. Though one may long for a more complex and colorful story like Robert Hunter’s Map of Days (an excellent Nobrow Press publication), Destination X would be marred by such additions. It’s perfect at doing what it does, and I can hardly fault it for being other than itself. If you are a fan of literary parables, I highly recommend the short graphic novel Destination X by John Martz


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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