Username: Regenerated Returns Readers to Digital Fantasy World

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Username Regenerated

Fantasy stories that find a person transported to another world have always been a staple in the industry. Whether the protagonist walks through a wardrobe or falls down a rabbit hole, falls asleep in a cave of mists (like Edgar Rice Burroughs' A PRINCESS OF MARS) or gets swallowed by a hippo at the zoo (Brandon Mull's BEYONDERS), the method is usually nothing more than a convenient story device to get Person A to Plot B for the sake of expediency so the action can begin.

With USERNAME: REGENERATED (the sequel to the graphic novel USERNAME: EVIE), the transport device just happens to be a computer, programmed to do precisely that. This is simultaneously a workable as a fantasy device (TRON, for example) and an impediment to the reader because we are all so close to our computers that we know how they work. (I suppose there were some master cabinet makers who couldn't get into the Narnia books, as well as a cuniculturist or two who went "pish posh" to Lewis Carroll.)

Evie, the protagonist of USERNAME: REGENERATED, is a teenager who has just recently made it out of her father's specially programmed virtual reality, a reality he constructed just for her when she was born. The reality is called e.scape, and was intended to be a place for his daughter to retreat from the world, into a place that was designed to reflect her own personality back at her. How he turned a webcame into a gateway, how he knew that digital avatars might escape into the physical world through it, and, more importantly, how he knew what his daughter's personality was going to be when she was only an infant, are things that we simply have to accept in order to move on. What's important is that it worked, and it was a tragedy; the initial test swallowed Evie's mom, who never returned, and the later use by Evie when she was grown found her accompanied by her somewhat spoiled cousin Mallory, who proved to be a corrupting presence on e.scape, necessitating a reboot by her father -- who had dying and now also a citizen in e.scape.

Rebooting meant everything in e.scape died, including the nameless bespectabled hoody-wearing hero that Evie had fallen in love with.

Which brings us to this sequel by writer/artist Joe Sugg.

Evie is stuck now in reality, unable to escape from it. One might say that her father did her a disservice by working so hard to create an escape from the world rather than parenting her in a way that might instead actually help her cope with it, but that's another story and wouldn't be nearly as fantasy-oriented as this one. The reboot has somehow broken the gateway so that all Evie can do is look into the world through her screen and pine for her lost love. Meanwhile, Mallory tries to get Evie to get on with her life and take a prom invitation from the geeky kid who crushes on her -- unsurprisingly another slender fellow who wears spectacles, not unlike the nameless avatar.

However, in e.scape, the characters are indeed resurrecting, including the glasses-wearing hood, who gains a name -- River -- and the brute who tried to kill him in the last iteration. In an "Androcles and the Lion" type moment, River rescues the brute, named Oak, and the two become allies in a desolate world. One thing leads to another, Oak finds the gateway laptop left at the big tree, and zap!, he's transported into the physical world. The gateway is working again (thanks to Evie's geeky friend, who fixed her code but broke it to its original in a fit when he finds Evie isn't really all that into him).

While Oak (and later, River) travel to the physical world, Evie is delighted to have made the transition into e.scape once more, accompanied by her life-sherpa, Unity. Having found her father's notes, along with the revelation that her mother was transported into e.scape, Evie embarks on a quest to find her missing mom. However, the woman she runs into is nothing like the woman she sought.

Two worlds collide, and a senseless tragedy is wrought, all while enough traffic passes through Evie's bedroom unbeknownst to her oblivious aunt and uncle below that it becomes comedy. Sugg ends the story with a dangling element that promises another book will be coming, and I for one hope the next book explains the infant-Evie prologue that opened this volume -- a scene that shows baby Evie with Oak reflected in her eyes.

The artwork of the graphic novel has an appeal, although there's also a certain chiseled look to it. While the landscapes are highly detailed and lush, and the characters are believably constructed, there are times when they appear "flat" -- which could be a result of the inking, the coloring, or even the printing, I'm not sure. It's still quite good in its rendering, and worth a read.

3.5 / 5.0