Shahidah El-Amin is many things: scholar, cartographer, astronomer, mathematician, scientist, explorer, adventurer, and—when need be—two-fisted fighter. Setting out from Baghdad’s legendary House of Wisdom during the Islamic Golden Age, Shahi’s quest brings her to 13th-century Britain…where the Welsh are whispered to possess the secret of eternal life. But Shahi’s not the only one after it…
Writers Robert McKenzie and Dave Walker set up the story at a basic level without expanding on characters. This left parts of the story open for me to interpret, and it creates a shared journey between myself and the main character, Shahidah El-Amin. McKenzie and Walker also set up the first issue to build towards a specific moment, but cuts the reader off right before this moment. Where the story stops in the first issue is perfect because now I’m thirsty for the second issue. In the world of binging comics in trade form or watching a full season of TV in one sitting, it’s surprisingly satisfying to have to wait for the next issue and think about the story you just read. Since Compass has a mystery element, I can see people rereading the issue looking for clues.
Justin Greenwood has a Chuck Jones style to his art, which creates intoxicating moments with characters’ eyes. Greenwood’s artwork also brings several feelings to the table and forces me to adjust my perceptions. How Shahi moves in a panel, her smile, and the weapons she uses had me looking at the issue through the lens of Dick Grayson or Tim Drake, aka Robin, in the first action sequence as she is looking for the treasure. This is not bad because Robin is a character I like, and now there is a bond with Shahi by association. Then, as the story progresses, Shahi slowly breaks through the lens and becomes her own character, but never leaves my previous attachment. Greenwood changes how Shahi moves when she arrives in Britain, and this is where the “Robin” lens fades. There is a tougher, more determined feeling to how she is presented in a panel.
Daniela Miwa’s colors work well in the issue. The first half is very dark, with the back half very bright. The colors add to the storytelling elements as the world begins to expand as the pages get brighter. You literally go from tunnel vision to wide-open spaces. The dark colors make you focus on page details, where the brighter, more calming colors make you look at the page as a whole.
Letterer Simon Bowland doesn’t use a ton of sound effects, but when he does, you listen. The beginning of the issue is very dark and quiet, so when you read a “KCHUNK,” you almost jump out of your seat in fright. Bowland uses a well-balanced approach to the letter work that allows the reader to clearly understand the story and look for hidden meanings in the bold typeface.
Overall, Compass #1 (of 5) is a fun read with a solid mystery that grabs the reader’s attention. If you pick up the first issue, be prepared to have feelings and emotions that remind you of some of your favorite memories.