By Zack Quaintance — There’s an interesting dichotomy in AfterShock Comics’ latest series, Lost City Explorers. On its surface, the book has all the trappings of a traditional teen adventure story—bickering siblings, a diverse group of friends, a parent lost to a mysterious realm beneath the city—but rather than lean into the ‘80s nostalgia that has come to define this sort of story in recent years (see Netflix’s Stranger Things), this comic goes the other way, makings its protagonists very much of our time.
For example, the introductory scene depicts a science experiment deep beneath New York City that suddenly goes wrong and swallows its researchers. This entire scene feels timeless, as if it could have happened from 1950 on. Once it has concluded though, artists Alvaro Sarraseca and Chris Blythe give us an establishing shot of modern New York City (with One World Trade Center and all) that next gives way to teens at a Bleachers concert (great band, btw).
The characters in the first scene may as well be ‘80s teen adventurers grown up, while those who follow are their kids, left to navigate a less rosy world. In fact, our protagonist’s fitting first line is, This world sucks. And the scene goes on from there to expertly capture the vast uncertainty of heading toward high school graduation without a blueprint for what comes next. One fantastic panel has main character Hel standing with her toes over the edge of subway platform, musing, Everything just seems so pointless.
Essentially, Lost City Explorers #1 seems to have its kids saying, Yes, we remember teen movie nostalgia, but what does that have to do with our plight? It’s an interesting ideological contrast, and I hope the book delves into it more substantially as things progress.
This issue is ambitious, deliberately working toward its (excellent) final panel, which marks the proper start of the adventure to come. In getting there, however, there is A LOT of exposition, dolled out in too-large chunks that occasionally slow the pacing. Kaplan writes great dialogue, but in one scene following a funeral, a character lapses into straight info dumping that feels a little jarring.
I can’t, however, imagine there’s much left to impart in the second issue, and as such I’m optimistic this book will get even better as it goes. For now, though, I’d say this is a solid comic, very much worth a read for fans of teen adventure stories, especially those born after 1994 who just don’t understand my (slightly...only slightly!) older generation’s fascination with the ‘80s.
Overall: Lost City Explorers #1 is a mashup of bygone teen adventure stories and 2018 sensibilities, blending earnest wonder with the blunted expectations of today. It's a really interesting book, seemingly bent on reclaiming the genre from decades past. There is, however, much exposition in this first issue, and I won’t be surprised if #2 is stronger. 7.8/10
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.