Moro Rogers’ City in the Desert is an immensely charming series. I’ve previously reviewed the first two books for Fanboy Comics, though I missed out on the third when it released alone. Now, though, the whole trilogy has been brought together in one nice volume, as it should be, given that the books previously left off on such cliffhangers that waiting between them could be agonizing. This is the tale of Irro, the last monster hunter in the city Kevala, which is, as you’ve probably guessed, in the desert. He’s accompanied by Hari, his moody, not-quite-human assistant, and Bok, and ox/robot/thing that is never quite explained (though he doesn’t really need to be). Kevala’s establishment clearly is more bothered by Irro these days than they are gratified by his presence, and Irro, for his part, takes this in somewhat misanthropic stride. Things start to change with the arrival of strangers from the north, and Irro and Hari find themselves the city’s last line of defense against potentially catastrophic changes.
What makes City in the Desert perhaps most endearing is its relative minimalism. Though each book opens with a chunk of mythology, and characters often tell each other what they’re doing for the sake of the reader, this isn’t a story that generally feels over explained or too wordy. Many aspects of Kevala’s world, magical as it is, are left unexplained or entirely unacknowledged, and that makes this a desert rich in possibility and lore, implicitly rather than explicitly. Indeed, the action frequently proceeds for pages at a time with little more than sound effects. Big, two-tone panels leave plenty of room for the art to play, for the characters to be physically expressive in their cartoonish style, and for small details to be included. This, and the relative simplicity of the plot, makes City in the Desert, even in this four-hundred-page form, a pretty quick read, but one that feels like it has depth.
The real centerpiece of the book is the relationship between Irro and Hari. Hari’s something like a teenage girl, but she’s also a Zaiang, a “monster,” and only Irro really trusts her. She often looks coiled, ready to spring. She and Irro work together fluidly, but there’s definitely something beneath the surface: a kind of love, not romantic certainly, but real. You get the sense that these two are the most important things in each other’s lives. The fate of Kevala is consequential only in that there needs to be big stakes for the story; the fate of the main characters is what we really care about.
I’ve been searching for a way to concisely describe City in the Desert, and all I’ve really landed on is “Miyazaki-esque.” Like Miyazaki’s films, City in the Desert is imperfect; its early pacing is a little wobbly, and it has an odd amount of blood, profanity, and minor nudity for a book that otherwise looks and reads like it could be a great all-ages title. Some people will also find the value, in terms of reading time, to be lacking, as it goes by so quickly. But Rogers’ world is so neat, and her characters so expressive, that it’s hard not to develop a fondness for this flintlock fairy tale.