Hello. I read a comic, did a little dance. Felt it needed more work as a critical medium and fell back on words. Sometimes the Old Ways are best. Anyway, this... SOVEREIGN #1 Art by Paul Maybury Written by Chris Roberson Coloured by Paul Maybury with Jordan Gibson Lettered by John . Hill Image, Paper $2.99 Digital £1.99 (2014) Sovereign created by Maybury & Roberson
At the risk of unsettling my regular readers I thought I’d cut right to the nub of the matter this time out; Sovereign is Fantasy. It’s the kind of Fantasy with swords and monsters and cloaks and a classy upper case F. Sovereign is not that tawdry lower case f type of fantasy involving you, a Nixon mask, Kinder eggs and Miss Ga-Ga (Yes, Miss Ga-Ga; because that filly’s no Lady, I’ll be bound). More simply Sovereign is Fantasy a la Game of Thrones. I picked that because everyone knows Game of Thrones and this is very much like that, and that’s no bad thing. If you like Game of Thrones you’ll probably like Sovereign is what I’m getting at there. That’s all I need to say really so there you go. What? No, I don’t watch (or read) Game of Thrones; I did watch the first episode and it was okay (the highlight, naturally, being 1970s Martin Amis as Tyrion Lannister) but I didn’t feel any burning need to carve out a small niche in my life for it. But I think I will for this book because it caught my fancy with its off kilter visuals and intelligent approach.
Also, quite a lot happens. So much happens in fact that Roberson has to carve his book into three chunks. Each chunk introduces a set of cast members intended to represent the mind-set of their particular societies. Since two of the chunks involve groups in transit the contrasts being offered are very much cultural rather than geographical. While we are treated to several of Maybury’s lovely locales none of them really come into too clear a focus (plus one bunch of folk are on a boat and the sea is pretty much the sea even in Scrabble Name Land) so it’s obvious the book is more bothered about the characters. The first trio of whom we meet being three members of the Luminari, which is a sect of spiritual ghost fighters who also flense corpses like master butchers under conditions of extreme duress. They are off see the Tamurid, the current rulers of Khend. It’s in this section that your eye has to acclimatise to Maybury’s off kilter approach to POVs and his art’s general air of swollen decay. I was thinking a lot about tainted sausages during this section. The spur to our spiritual pals’ pilgrimage is some rum business which we will soon see is getting the plot rolling in at least two other areas of Countdown Conundrum Land. No sooner have you noticed that our trio are in fact a cheekily recast Batman (Paladin), Robin (Raven) and Alfred Pennyworth (The Practician) than they are up their nuts in guts and it’s a cliffhanger cut to the next section.
Wherein we meet the Tamurid. The Tamurid are a kind of Steppes warrior bunch and among their number they count the book's Conan analogue. Because his Dad is Khan (no, not Ricardo Montalban) Janramir gets to generally fart about like any rich kid but with the milieu specific emphasis on killing things, laughing around campfires with other lusty men and voicing the eternal Barbarian’s Lament about perfumed men who fight only with words. In this part Maybury has a good time drawing horses so big and thick they are scarier than the big and thick men who ride them. Back at the writing Roberson does some time lapse stuff where the chat flows as if in real time but the images jump from night to day and incident to incident; I like this because people generally do just talk about shit that’s bothering them like maybe going over it one more goddamn time will make it go away. Luckily Roberson realises there’s no need to actually subject the reader to all that repetition. Better to suggest it and to do so cleverly. Take note, jabber jockeys. Alas, all wasteful things must come to an end and Janramir is told his Dad’s dead. Downer. The inference is that he’s going to have to go back and wade through the kind of internecine rivalry and callous backstabbing familiar to anyone with siblings who’s Mum has died and not said who can have her jewellery.
The third and final part of the comic introduces us to a boat borne band whose fictional culture is clearly that of renaissance(?) Britain but, you know, a bit different; more credulity in magic and that stuff. There’s Pol Ravenstone; a bloke whose head is always in a book and prefers others to do the physical stuff, so he’s the only normal person in the comic (cough!); Lady Joselyn Evrendon, a lady it’s heavily hinted at is a bit cold and let’s hope her character arc isn’t as obvious as “sworn virgin” would lead us to infer; and then there’s Argus Mag Donnac, a violent and ill-bred man in tartan i.e. a Scot. The big set piece cracks off in this bit so I won’t spoil it; it’s good. 'S exciting if slightly hampered by a lack of clarity on the part of the restlessly inventive Maybury. I couldn’t really get a fix on the size of the ship or exactly what was happening but it was a quite hectic series of remarkably uncommon events so that may have been intentional.
For the page count of a single comic in 2014 a lot of ground gets covered; I don’t know how much ground because Sovereign omits to give us a map. Which is odd because if Sovereign were a book it would have a map in the front, but it’s not it’s a comic so it has prose in the back. The first time through I didn’t read that bit because I shouldn’t need to. And I didn’t need to. The words at the back worked the way they should, as an appendix which enhanced and deepened what went before. But what had gone before stood solidly enough by itself. I also liked Roberson’s use of quotes from sources in his fake world to preface (and on occasion end) his chapters. This gave everything a bit of extra import and because he’s made them up they could fulfil their narrative purpose more precisely and, more importantly, we didn’t have to suffer that same fucking Nietzsche quote about the abyss everyone trots out. Hey, comic book writers? Read a book every now and again; they don’t fucking bite. Chris Roberson obviously reads books and it seems to be working out okay for his writing, I'd say.
I’m old and move slow so there are a number of issues (Sigh. Yes, I could have checked but my nails are drying, dear. This is strictly amateur hour, you know.) of this series now available but I just read the first. I’ll be picking up the others and I hope Maybury’s art continues to provide a quirky compliment to Roberson’s nifty scripting. However, he might just want to keep an eye on the levels of quirk involved. Looking at issue two’s cover it appears the cast is to be joined by the cuckolded homophobe Ray Purchase from Toast of London. While this would make it the best comic ever, as that probably isn’t going to happen Sovereign will have to settle for just being GOOD!
And remember that there may not be elves, Sam, but there are always - COMICS!!!