Patricio Clarey puts an unreal amount of effort into every panel with a degree of detail that comes from a tremendous amount of research and preparation. Painstakingly working with 3D environment models and character maquettes to flesh out every panel, Clarey puts in a seemingly Herculean amount of time, effort, and patience into each square inch of illustration. I am no expert about his process, but it called to mind the type of work that goes into creating the visual sets of an epic movie like The Lord of the Rings.
Every second of that effort pays off. The end result is a richly layered universe in which Clarey deftly merges mechanical elements with softer natural scenes. Big or small, every single panel boasts a level of detail that is simply stunning. Clarey reaches a height of visual complexity in Volume 3, as the story reaches its climax and the main characters travel farther into dream realms for the answers they seek.
The story of Archaeologists of Shadows is rooted in the transformation from the organic to the mechanical. The heroes of the story have resisted their mechanical transformation, joined up with the Resistance, and, naturally, gathered enemies along the way. Their quest takes place primarily in dreamscapes, as they seek out answers from hidden gods. As a result, the story is less rooted in solid plot points (although we get a number of exciting action sequences) than with the inner workings of our characters' minds.
I found the story worked best in these dreamscapes. The story as a whole is concerned more with universal concepts than specific plot detail. (In some places, we move so quickly through plot detail that we get a bit of whiplash.) In the dreamscapes, the ethereal nature of the narrative melded wonderfully with the grand scope of the illustrations. Fuentes and Clarey make full use of the infinitive possibilities for storytelling in these scenes and take the reader to some truly amazing places.
One thing I felt was missing in the story was a solid sense of relationship. We are thrown into the action of the quest with very little personal history for our main characters, and, as a result, I had some difficulty understanding their personal motivations and resulting connection to each other. In this sense, the story is noticeably less detailed and layered than is its visual setting.
Overall, I was enthralled with all three volumes in the Archaeologists of Shadows series. The conclusion of Volume 3 leaves open an intriguing, and welcome, door for the continuation of the series. Fuentes and Clarey have created a world with endless opportunities for development. I would certainly come along on any new journey they might take.
And, I’m seriously in the market for some Patricio Clarey wall-sized prints for my home.