Back in March, YouNeek Studios offered the world a first peek at the brainchild of its’ founder, producer, and creative director Roye Okupe. It is a two part superhero epic called “E.X.O.”, which is set in Nigeria in the very near future. The first volume, “The Legend of Wale Williams”, is set to go on sale today (August 31), and this column was privy to an exclusive advance preview!
Much as the title suggests, this opening graphic novel details the origin of its’ hero, the titular “E.X.O.”. Set in Lagoon City in Lagos, Nigeria during the years 2020-2025, Wale Williams is someone who on the surface has it all. He’s a martial arts champion, lives in an upper middle class home above the slums of Omile, and appears to have a stable family life with a sassy younger brother (Timi) and an attentive mother (Lola) and uncle (Jide). Unfortunately, his father Tunde spends more time on his various lab projects for the Prytek company than he does with his sons. This resentment turns to bitterness for Wale when an accident in their personal lab takes away a member of their family. Returning after a five year personal exile, Wale finds a city which is still deeply divided upon rich and poor, and a terrorist group called “the Creed” who are sowing violence throughout the region. The sudden disappearance of Tunde forces Wale to reestablish ties with Timi, his friend Benji and “sort of” girlfriend Zahra to get to the bottom of the mystery and sort out his father’s legacy. This includes a powerful suit of armor dubbed “E.X.O.” which Wale is forced to don when a series of attacks begin to plague Lagoon City. At the same time, an unholy alliance between the CEO of Prytek and the despotic Oniku (leader of “the Creed”) threatens to unravel both Wale and Lagoon City itself. Much like in many classical sagas, Wale goes through a trial by fire in order to survive and save everyone. However, he is hardly the only member of his cast with a secretive means towards super powers.
In an era where there seems to be a persistent cry for more diverse heroes created by more diverse creators within the comic book industry, “E.X.O.” may be coming at the perfect time. Nigeria has never had its’ own superhero before, and DC Comics’ recent effort with Bat-Wing left more to be desired (having only one superhero to patrol all of Africa is akin to Captain America being the lone hero of all of North America). The art by Ayodele Elegba and colors by Raphael Kazeem are vibrant and exciting, truly coming alive during the action sequences. These sequences have a particular cinematic quality to them, and are paced very much like storyboards might be for a multimedia depiction. This naturally gives the battles a sense of flow, which less media savvy artists and writers sometimes struggle with in comics. The conflict between the wealthy, the poor, and those who seek to exploit them is well defined. The designs for most of the characters, especially the armored ones, are distinct and effective. E.X.O. himself and Oniku seem to have the best costume designs, which is perfectly acceptable considering they’re the lead hero and villain, respectively.
If this opening volume of “E.X.O.” has any flaw, it is that certain elements and plot mechanics may seem too familiar to certain savvy readers regardless of their setting alongside certain plot or character details arising as needed. The tale of a hero who goes on a journey, ignores an initial call to adventure and then eventually seeks redemption in fulfilling his fate is a myth as old as time. It was also firmly stated in Joseph Campbell’s 1949 novel “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. While this gives “E.X.O.” elements which delve deep into mythology and classical epics, it also may lead some readers to be able to predict certain key plot points (especially in regards to the secrets of some characters). Some plot elements and character moments are foreshadowed as the story develops and built up, while some are not. This all said, some of the volume’s best moments are the interaction between Wale, Timi, and Benji, and the entire work feels very much like an exciting summer blockbuster movie with its’ pacing designs, and flair.
The official website for YouNeek Studios is offering this 132 page tome for $14.99 as a printed edition and $9.99 as a digital download; it can also be had at Amazon, Kindle, ComiXology, and iTunes. Despite overall comic book sales for the industry not being in their peak from the early 90’s, technology has never allowed publishers and studios big and small to bring their products to readers worldwide than it does now. Websites such as Afropunk have also covered the launch of this series, which is seeking to fill a very real gap within the global superhero market. As much as fans may desire for the “big two” to diversify their universes, their zeal and attention should also be focused onto brand new properties such as this which already are where they want such franchises to be.
Dubbing “E.X.O.” as “the Nigerian Iron Man” may be a bit simplistic, but Wale and Tony Stark aren’t too many shades removed either. Readers who want to be on the ground floor for a great new series with a different setting than most superhero epics as well as more of a sense of the world around it should pick up “E.X.O.: the Legend of Wale Williams” today!