Blade of the Warrior: Kshatriya #1 (Virgin Comics)
by Arjun Gaind & R. Manikandan
Virgin Comics continues its efforts to incorporate East Indian mythology into the pop-culture consciousness with this new limited series about a warrior and his battle with his corrupt brother. I have to give writer Arjun Gaind credit to driving home the ancient nature of the story and characters by making Alexander the Great the audience for the story within the comic. It not only drives home the eons-old quality of the backdrop, but it also reinforces the longevity of East Indian culture. This is a Conan-esque barbarian story, and R. Manikandan’s artwork suits it incredibly well. His style puts me in mind of Barry (Storyteller, Conan the Barbarian) Windsor-Smith’s art, as well as that of Michael (Sandman) Zulli. The visuals are full of rich detail, but the artist doesn’t necessarily strive for a realistic look either. He captures the supernatural elements incredibly well with his slight sketchy style, and the muted colors aid him in that effort.
The plot and script are thoroughly accessible. The mythological elements are introduced clearly, but Gaind hasn’t dumbed down the script either. There’s an epic, classic feel to the story; in many ways, it feels like we’re reading a parable, and I suspect I would enjoy the morals of the story. Unfortunately for me, I’m really not a fan of the sword-and-sorcery, barbarian genre, and this book is firmly in that realm. The execution here is solid. I’m just not the right audience for it. Fans of Dark Horse’s Conan comics would be well advised to give Kshatriya a look. 7/10
Caffeine Dreams #3 (DWAP Publications)
This independently produced anthology book doesn’t seem to boast any central theme, though bloody violence does its way into all three of the stories within. The creators wisely open with “Shooting Dogs,” the strongest of the three short stories. It reminds me a little of Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo’s Bluesman. It’s something of a story about the dangers of vigilante justice and false accusations, only with a dog. One might describe Dale Wilson’s story as a cross between Reservoir Dogs and Old Yeller. D.V. Ruiz’s art for the piece is rough in spots, but the hazy, black-and-white visuals manage to capture the period and uncomfortable nature of the backdrop nicely. Turtle, the dog at the center of the plot, is rendered inconsistently, but the art captures the harsh tone of the story pretty well.
It’s with the latter two segments in the book that this anthology issue goes awry. Both pieces have a supernatural bent, one subtly so and the other overtly, and both are impenetrable stories that are hard to follow or even understand. “The Axe” features a modern man experience the violence of an ancient war, apparently after discovering an ancient weapon. The flow and circumstances of the story are unclear, and the point is out of reach. Wilson’s vampire story, which rounds out the issue, is fairly typical fare of the genre, and the dialogue is typically lyrical and cryptic. It’s a dialogue device I’ve seen in vampire stories in the past that’s designed to bring mystery and mystique to the characters, but instead, it just brings confusion for the reader. The art for both pieces are radically different in tone, but the action is equally difficult to discern at times. Sojj’s art for the vampire story is loose, sketchy and airy, in an attractive way. Aposcar Cruz’s angular, elongated figures in “The Axe” remind me of J. (Gotham Underground) Calafiore’s style, though Cruz’s work is disjointed and, as I noted before, hard to follow. It’s nice to see indy creators trying to explore such diverse and unusual content, but most of them need to hone their craft further. 4/10
Note: For more information about this comic and the publisher, visit the DWAP Productions website.
Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #1 (DC Comics)
by Geoff Johns, George Perez & Scott Koblish
Pay no attention to the “Final Crisis” part of the title of this limited series; there’s no apparent link, at least in this first issue anyway. This is an odd series, as it seems apparent that Johns is trying to craft a story that makes sense of the confused continuity of the Legion of Super-Heroes while at the same time recognizing that he’s going to be introducing the concept to a whole new readership. As a longtime Legion fan, it’s hard for me to judge if the writer’s on the right path, but I think that he is. This is, for the most part, a rather bright story that really taps into the energy and youth of the Legion, traits that have made it so attractive over the past five decades. There are a multitude of characters at play here, and while longtime Legion fans will be pleased with all of the Easter eggs, the script is clear enough that rookies will be able to follow along.
Perez’s artwork is, as always, a real treat. The overwhelming detail gives the reader a lot of take in, but I didn’t find it impeded the flow of the story. Ultimately, this series is a tribute to the characters and stories that have elated Legion fans over the years. Perez clearly recognizes that, as he employs his detailed style to add as many nostalgic elements as possible. He and Johns bring the magic of the future to life here quite well, just as they capture the youthful, idealistic qualities of the title team that have been an integral part of the property from the start. 7/10
Welcome to Hoxford #1 (IDW Publishing)
by Ben Templesmith
Steve Niles has developed a strong reputation as the top dog in horror comics in the industry today, but helping him develop that rep all along was his 30 Days of Night collaborator, artist Ben Templesmith. The artist has demonstrated that he’s no slouch when it comes to horror writing as well with such projects as Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse and 30 Days of Night: Red Snow. As if the strength of those projects weren’t enough evidence of his skill as a writer/artist, along comes Welcome to Hoxford. At first, it seems as though he’s offering up a prison drama with a cast of characters made up of the most despicable serial killers, but by the end of the issue, Hoxford reveals itself to be a horror story as well. Oddly enough, it seems the horrific killers who have been transferred to a privately run prison facility will actually turn out to be the protagonists of this story. Nevertheless, Templesmith doesn’t try to soften the killers. They’re not sympathetic, tragic figures. They’re monsters; they just don’t seem as monstrous as their jailers. The creator’s sharp, sketchy style certainly suits the harsh nature of the characters and backdrop for the story. It allows him to walk a fine line between depicting the characters as human and inhuman. He exaggerates various attributes, such as jawlines and teeth, but he never goes so far as to make them seem like something otherworldly or impossible. The dark and muted colors he employs add to the tension and bring an eerie, unsettling quality to the story. 8/10