Portalbound caught my eye when I looked in my previews last year. I wanted to read something that was a little light mood but also very fun and entertaining, which in a lot of ways fits a lot of what Aspen Comics does. Aspen always manages to create very beautiful books that stand out whenever you see them in your local comic shop. Personally, I think their Young Adult action line is where they showcase some of their best work. Portalbound is an excellent example of my theory.
Publisher: Aspen Comics
Story: Mark Roslan and Gabe Carrasco
Pencils and Digital Inks: Alex Arizmendi
Colors: Wes Hartman
Portalbound was a six-issue miniseries that had the unique premise of two planets, and their people being parallel versions of themselves. The series focuses on two characters that share that link. One is Sybil, warrior princess of Havos, and the other is high school kid Elias Rivera.
The story begins in issue zero on Havos where Sybil has to escape the clutches of her father, Emperor Atilus, who has fallen under the influence of the “Other” – his linked counterpart on earth. Sybil manages to escape thanks to Riley, a young genius who has mastered portal technology to send Sybil to Earth. On earth, her counterpart Eli, with the encouragement of his buddy Brett, tries to muster up the courage to ask a girl out. When Eli attempts to go for it, his courage fails him.
Issue one follows Sybil as she arrives on earth, and trouble follows behind her. Sybil and Eli manage to meet and end up merging with each other at a concert. They manage to overcome the invading masses and the local authorities and establish a bit of an uneasy truce. Though they share the same soul, they are very different people.
Issue two has Eli, Sybil and Brett go back into Havos to meet Riley. That scene, in particular, highlighted Elis’ strength and wit. There they run into some of Atilus’ soldiers, including a fighter named Omeil, who manages to thwart Sybil while Eli watches in fear. Just as it seems all is lost, it turns out that Brett and Omeil are each other’s alternates. This issue did a really good job of establishing Eli’s key flaws. In Eli’s case, it’s his cowardice and inability to act under pressure. The comic also manages to give the main characters a little animosity, which I thought was awesome. We all have parts of ourselves that we despise. In confronting each other and merging with each other, both characters were all too aware of how alike they were, in spite of them admitting to the contrary.
After the group manages to escape back to earth in issue three, Riley tells the tale of how she and her mentor Dr. Horuk discovered the twin world theory in a more innocent time. We see Atticus seem much happier and more benign. Shifting to the present day, we kearb a lot about Atticus’ plan to merge the worlds together. It is also discovered that when one person on one world dies, the counterpart on the other world dies as well. Eli’s uncle is reported dead of a heart attack as a result of Atticus murdering Horuk in issue one. At this point, however, Sybil and Eli’s animosity comes to a boil. This results in Sybil heading back to Havos to save her mother on her own, as she sabotages Eli and company’s ability to follow her.
Issue four is when all seems lost. Sybil’s backstory opens up the issue in which we find that she has had this sense of isolation ever since she was little. She always felt alone and has this belief that she has to do everything on her own. Meanwhile, Eli and company manages to find a way back to Havos, and here is when all seems to be lost. Brett is forced to merge with Omeil, who then captures Riley and enables Atticus to use her to open up the portals en masse on earth. As for Sybil’s rescue attempt, that too fails as it turns out her mom knows a lot more than she let on and then captures Sybil. Eli is forced to try and save the worlds on his own and finds his fear makes him helpless. All seems lost as the portals open and Atticus attacks.
In issue five, Eli manages to find the will to overcome his fear and manages to rescue Sybil. Each of them has learned from the other and launch into an all-out assault against Atticus. They eventually with the help of Omeil overcome the evil king, and it is here that the last surprise is revealed. Eli’s father is the other mentioned in issue zero and is the malicious force behind everything. With Atticus and Eli’s father no longer merged, Sybil makes the ultimate choice, and the war is over. The epilogue of the episode features the group resuming life back to normal on both planets, with both worlds having clues that maybe, this was only the beginning.
Mark Roslan and Gabe Carrasco constructed a very solid story. The beats were, by and large, spot on. Lots of clever things were done with the dialogue to really tell the story of Sybil and Eli’s connection. Alex Arizmandi really went to town with the designs of Havos. It was alien, psychedelic, and yet strangely familiar. Wes Hartman cleverly used his coloring to depict the differences between both worlds, but I have to think that Zen had a blast with all the different kind of lettering. The design of this book gives this book its tone and feel. The overall package feels very kinetic and in spite of some of the darker passages, light-hearted. Well done.
Behind the Story
It wasn’t the main focus of the story, but I was daydreaming of: What if I went down a different path in life? If I went to a different school or got a different job or didn’t move to California and my life panned out a different way. Portal Bound was created with the initial thought of What if you visited yourself on an alternate Earth, and that alternate version was WAAAAY cooler than you? The story began with that concept but it changed over the course of molding the story. Essentially the main character, Elias, finds his alternate on another Earth and it’s a girl named Sybil. She is confident and a great warrior, everything he is not. Elias is coming of age. He’s at a critical time in life where he is turning into the person he’s going to be. We built a whole new world, Havos, this alternate Earth, and fit in as much as we possibly could in this story while still having it be Elias’ journey. What makes Portal Bound kind of unique is that you can easily say Sybil IS Elias as well. So her journey is just as important. Both characters are essentially the same soul. They both start at one end of the personality spectrum and learn and come out closer towards their respective self. Elias becomes braver and “cooler,” while Sybil opens up, becomes more susceptible for help and an overall kinder person.
I pitched the story to Aspen Comics and they thought it was very interesting and unique with a great emotional core. I was doing multiple drafts of the outline and had these holes that I couldn’t figure out. Gabe Carrasco was answering all my problems with ease and brought some new ideas that worked in perfectly. With all his contributions, it was a no-brainer to add him onto the book as a co-writer. The story came together way more smoothly. Plus, with juggling two worlds and two main protagonists, it just made sense to have two writers.
Portalbound is a very engaging young adult book. The characters are likable, and it’s the start of hopefully a great epic. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we see volume two.
So much to talk about. I’ve had a very busy start of the year since the holidays. First off, my Patreon Page launches March 1st. Just Joshing has been a growing podcast and I’m anxious to see where this and my other projects go from here. Speaking of the podcast, this week I’m looking at the profession of bookbinding and book restoration. Omair Hyder and David Sidjak are my current guests. Next week book restorer and author Robert Angus concludes this series. My first sponsor is Words and Pictures comics. I’ll be giving away graphic novels on the podcast starting in March.
That’s not all. My next book, Alice Zero, will be coming out in March as well. Next column I’ll be able to give you a release date and the ability to order the book on Amazon and other platforms. I’m really excited for this. Also, I’ll be a professional at a convention for the first time, heading to Emerald City Comic Con. I can’t wait to meet and interview some of the people there and get my hands on some great comics.
Here’s the cover to Alice Zero, courtesy of the Great Mackenzie Carr.
I think that’s all I can talk about right now. Thanks for reading and see you guys soon.