Webcomic Wednesday: Nux Yorica by Cameron Hawkey

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“Sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.” George R.R. Martin’s maxim gets a thorough workout in Nux Yorica, Cameron Hawkey’s deceptively crude, surprisingly complex digital comic.

On a story level, the comic is a narrative of escape and revenge. A novice rescues the titular sorcerer from mind-wiped imprisonment in a tower using a powerful helmet, sacrificing his life in the process when Nux Yorica takes the helmet back to battle the panther-powered mastermind who locked him up. Seemingly losing a contest of wills, Nux Yorica surrenders the helmet, which breaks, but unleashes his full power in Obi-Wan Kenobi “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” mode when the villain orders his henchman to repair the thing. His full cosmic majesty now apparent, Nux Yorica turns the tables on his captor, imprisoning him in a tower of his own.

Throughout the comic, elliptical storytelling choices and deliberately messy art obscure Hawkey’s intent slightly, giving you the fuzzed-out feeling that Nux Yorica suffers from (memorably depicted by drawing his head as a bunch of squiggly lines and his dialogue as a mess of “razzem frazzem” gibberish). There’s a degree to which you must work to derive pleasure from the comic’s genre conventions and hunter-becomes-the-hunted twists and turns. Yet the occasional sequence of hyperattentive detail — a painstakingly drawn dash away from a desk, for instance, split across several pages — keeps you on your toes, unsure of how the pacing will unfold at any given moment.

It’s that uncertainty that comes out in the comic’s portrayal of its characters’ powers, specifically that helmet. It’s a weapon that seems to turn on everyone who handles it. The novice who rescues Nux Yorica is killed by the very man he set out to rescue when he yanks the helmet off his head to use himself. Nux Yorica is barely able to keep it on his head, and thus de-scramble his brain, for more than a minute before the panther-man wrests it away — but it becomes his undoing in turn. Like water finding its level, power, once acquired, will be wielded. It is ultimately not discriminating in finding targets to be wielded against.

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