‘Ipso Facto Volume 1: The Presence’ – Trade Paperback Review

Primarily set in Aspen, Colorado, Ipso Facto is a coming-of-age story with a twist: the main protagonist Mosel, who thought he was just another high school teenager, discovers he is an alien tasked with the decision to save humanity. Written by J.R. Rothenberg and illustrated by Jason Badower (True Blood, Castle), this trade paperback from Shenandoah Publishing collects the first six issues. For the first volume, Rothenberg and Badower were joined by colorist Annette Kwok (The Watch and Witch King, Witchblade), letterer Jim Campbell, and edited by Joan Hilty.

Rothenberg has written a thought-provoking science fiction story in which he applies the interconnectivity between people in order to examine the facets and implications of free will at philosophical and faith-based levels. Benign aliens that have lived on Earth for many millennia have engaged in a mass exodus. As they depart, they wish humanity “All that to you is good” which sounds odd, but in fact is meant to wish that the person gets as much of what they want.  It is one way that Rothenberg evaluates how free will impacts the main characters through their various relationships, from an intimate, one-to-one level to the global community. For example, Mosel's girlfriend Riley discovers she is pregnant and instead of discussing with Mosel a course of action as the parents of the unborn children, she makes the decision to have an abortion. Her choice may have given her peace of mind, but it has resulted in the adverse effect of causing an unspoken emotional tension, hesitation, and even some distrust between Mosel and Riley. Rothenberg also probes free will decisions that have monumental implications to the survival of humanity facing World War III.

Given that Ipso Facto is heady, Rothenberg employs both internal narrative from the perspective of Mosel as he reflects on the events that have led him to a crucial life altering moment, as well as dialogue of the scene unfolding, which usually echoes and emphasizes Mosel's journey to enlightenment. There are multiple subplots and a number of flashbacks to various times in Mosel's informative years growing up with his friend Riley. At times, the dialogue between characters and Mosel's internal narrative vied for the reader's attention, regrettably to the detriment of the overarching fascinating philosophical discussion. In addition, the location hopping during pivotal conversations between Willian/Brezsny and Willian/Victor is a bit jarring and distracting. Having read through the volume twice, this reviewer feels a third read, through, would garner even more nuances of the story.

The illustrations by Badower, complemented by Kwok's colors, result in a creative teaming that brings Rothenberg's words to life visually. The eyes of the characters and particular facial expressions stand out, especially with Mosel. The variety of panel choices maintains a visual freshness that is engaging. The covers of the single issues, which are included in the volume, are particularly attractive; the ones of Brezsny and Willian are excellent examples. Campbell's lettering rounds out the visuals. His font choices and placement of speech bubbles and narrative boxes complement Badower's illustrations and blend into the visual experience which is exactly expected and achieved. 

Ipso Facto is not a quick read, nor is it intended to be so. Rothenberg's exploration of the philosophical implications works well in a sci-fi genre. The characters are intriguing and he has created the needed depth in order to impart the seriousness of decisions made at an individual level that can have global and even interstellar repercussions. Individuals looking for a story that challenges their faith and their intellect will be most drawn to Ipso Facto.

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