Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur


And speaking of Cool Comics You're Not Reading Yet, here's the latest installment of The Review of Obscure Books. Two very different stories this time: a weird history/SF book, and a Very Russian Epic...

Faction Paradox is a relatively new book from Image -- a couple of issues are out so far. This is a little bit history and a little bit science fiction. It works with the relatively common meme these days of the "time war": great factions duking it out over history, to make things come out their way. But this story has a twist -- the war is over, and this is about the people picking up the pieces.

I've only read the first issue so far, but I'm exceptionally intrigued. The action happens in the middle of the 18th century, a time of wonders where a few more curiosities just seem to fit in. One of those oddities is Faction Paradox, the remnants of one of the sides in the temporal war, still trying to tweak things the way they want it. Complicating all of this are the leftovers of the war, particularly the lone survivor of an island tribe that were engineered to be particularly deadly hunters. It's a story of politics in the shadows, where most of the characters not only don't know the details of the battle, they can't even see the battlefield.

Most interesting to me, this appears to be a story. Over the years, I've gotten pretty impatient with the soap operatics of the average comic book, where nothing really ever changes despite all the theatrics. In Faction Paradox, the author has the chutzpah to print just one message in the first letter column: a note to himself at the end of the story. He drops a number of pretty obscure hints about where things are going, but one element is clear -- this is a genuine book, with a beginning and an end. That alone is enough to raise it a notch.

I'm going to have to look into this one more. There's quite a bit of backstory, largely unknown in the US but apparently somewhat popular in the UK. There are novels (published by BBC Books), a four-volume series of audio dramas on CD, and a substantial book describing the history of the time war. Even if I don't pick those up, I've generally found that having that much depth of backstory produces a more intriguing read.

Overall grade: a solid B at this point. That could go down over time if the story proves too self-absorbed, or up if it lives up to its promise. For now, I'm definitely following it.

The Red Star is a story I've been hearing about for years, but hadn't gotten around to reading. I started picking up the story a few issues ago, and have been somewhat at sea. But I just got around to reading the first collected volume, and I'm quite a bit more impressed.

The high concept goes something like this. The story is set some time in the future; it isn't clear whether this is actually our world or an alternate one, but it doesn't really matter all that much. The United Republics of the Red Star have ruled much of Europe for centuries, with gigantic Skyfurnaces (think airborne battlecruisers) keeping things under control. They work through a combination of technology and magic that are almost indistinguishable, since this is a magic that has been tamed by the military and applied to its purposes. Now, it's all falling apart, though -- a number of the smaller republics are breaking away, and the Union can't keep them in line, no matter how much force is applied.

The protagonists are mainly the crew of the Skyfurnace RSS Konstantinov. Urik Antares is the Captain; his sister-in-law Maya is the Sorceress. Linking them is the memory of Marcus, Maya's husband and Urik's brother, who apparently fell during the battle that marked the beginning of the end, ten years before. The first volume of the story explores this world with them, as they gradually realize that their empire is not as benign as they have always believed, and they find themselves at the center of a new fight, to reclaim the heart of the Red Star.

This is comics as grand opera. The story unfolds at a deliberate pace, positively glacial by the standards of most comic books. The first volume is a couple hundred pages long, and really just sets the stage. Really, it's structured as a novel, something you don't often see in comics, but which makes a pleasant change of pace. It's dense enough that I couldn't read it at a sitting, but by the end, I was thoroughly sucked into this grandiose tale of great heroes, national spirits, and a cast that are almost entirely larger than life. It mixes a tone that is generally quiet, melancholy and just a bit fatalist in a story that would make any good special-effects artist salivate.

This one isn't brain candy. You have to be prepared to keep track of a complex and intertwined story, with dimensions that have scarcely even been touched yet. And I'm not going to claim that it's flawless -- many of the characters are fairly two-dimensional, and the dialogue is sometimes a bit wooden. But somehow, that just makes it all seem more operatic. These are people belting out arias of loss and struggle, rather than deep prose.

Again, the assessment is a good B. I can't say that this story is fun, but I'm finding it fascinating, and I'm very curious to see where it lands...

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