It’s rare when I find a fantasy that impresses me and in which I can fully invest. Ricky and Toby Franklin have produced such a volume with their debut graphic novel, Mask of the Sentinels. Full of adventure, horror, social commentary, and well-developed characters, the narrative sweeps you up and carries you along for the ride. Personally, I felt the same wonder and excitement I had as a kid when I read Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest children’s fantasy book series.
Mask of the Sentinels follows a young woman named Nakura. She lives in the Kovann region of the Guarded Lands. Each region is overseen by a masked sentinel, a god-like being of magical power whom its people worship. Except one: the kingdom Lucinda. Lucinda’s emperor recruits Nakura to aid their quest to modernize the Guarded Lands. He states that many of the sentinels are no longer benevolent and that, with Lucinda’s help, the entire world may be united if the sentinels are defeated. Naïve and goodhearted, Nakura accepts. She embarks on her journey with the robot MADS-14, who has superhuman strength and a database of knowledge in his memory bank. But things are not as they seem.
Although rooted in the fantasy genre, Mask of the Sentinels doesn’t skimp on horror elements. The Franklin brothers’ renditions of the sentinels emphasize their uncanny, sometimes grotesque, forms. One sentinel, Beldai, is the stuff of nightmares. A gray, winged creature with oversized hands in place of clawed feet, Beldai is a towering behemoth. Upon its face is a mask depicting a demented smile to hide its murderous intentions.
But the heart of the story lies in the moving character arcs the Franklins have developed for Nakura and others. Through her interactions with residents of each region, she is exposed to new outlooks on life, makes new allies and enemies, and learns to take responsibility for her own actions. This also allows the Franklin brothers to naturally insert social commentary into the narrative. Topics such as totalitarian rule; same-sex marriage; the balance of religion and modern thought; and the presentation of historical facts are thoroughly addressed via dialogue and action.
Granted, the story’s direction may seem familiar to more seasoned veterans of the genre. But in their defense, there’s only so much that can be done with an episodic plot structure. Through expansive world-building and imbuing characters with heart and empathetic qualities, the Franklins successfully executed a novel concept.
In terms of production values, it is amazing how digital tools have advanced to equally complement and enhance hand-drawn animation. Colors pop; letters are clearly rendered; and text, speech, and thought bubbles are easily identifiable by their color-coding. While the printing and layout are top-notch, some readers may experience occasional sensory overload; some pages are blooming with so much detail and action that it may be difficult to discern what the eye should focus on first. However, these instances are far and in between.
Overall, Mask of the Sentinels recalls the vision of Hayao Miyazaki, the emotional maturity of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the fun of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. An impressive feat of visual storytelling, the Franklin brothers’ debut graphic novel makes me look forward to their future projects.
Rating 9 out of 10 stars