In Review: Coven #1

An entertaining opening that has me craving more.

The covers: Baba Yaga has her staff held forward, its tip glowing with energy, while just behind her is young witch Avril Williams, whose raised hand is powering up with blue force. They stand on a rocky outcropping complete with skulls. Lording over them is the gigantic head of one of the Crusaders of the Arcania Covenant. This is a sweet A cover by Sean Chen and Romulo Fajardo, Jr., and this is the one I had to get. The B is by Daniel Leister and Wes Hartman. It has a screaming girl tied to a stake which is set upon some hay. Behind her stands one of the Crusaders with a burning torch, which he’s already used to ignite two women on either side of him. Decent layout with the colors being very strong due to the burning pyres. Jamie Tyndall and Ula Mos are responsible for the C cover which features Avril decked out in shiny superhero/witch togs against a flaming pentagram, with candles on the floor. A waft of blue energy trails around her. Nice, though very superhero looking due to her costume. The D comes from Pasquale Qualano and Ylenia Di Napoli. Baba Yaga is in an action pose, her staff is huge — almost as big she is, with its top holding a glowing gem as big as her head. On a pile of rocks/dirt behind her crouches a Crusader with blades protruding from his sleeves. I like the figures, but I can’t take my eyes off the size of that staff. There’s also a San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive, drawn by Deacon Black, limited to 250 and 100 copies, but I couldn’t find an image on it online, so good luck in tracking that one down. Overall grades: A A, B B-, C A, and D C

The story: A blood moon appears above Salem Woods in the present day. A group of heavily armed crusaders are making their way through the forest, one of them provides narration. “The prophecy was coming. It was my job to stop it. And I had backup.” They stop just before a clearing where they see six women roasting marshmallows. One of them contacts their superior who watches from an undisclosed location. The story by Joe Brusha and Ralph Tedesco, written by Zach Calig, then moves to the women where two get in a war of words: Avril Williams calls one a “rich girl”. Said “rich girl” has her eyes and fists glow, and rises up in the air, hovering over Avril. Their instructor says, “That’s enough, girls. Stop fighting or you’ll have detention.” That’s when the cry of “Open fire!” is heard and the flying girl is shot out of the sky, landing in the fire pit. Chaos ensues, with girls and teacher being shot down. However, the soldiers have not killed the girls. They’re looking for something, and when they find it, something very bad occurs on Page 12. The focus then follows the crusaders and their newest member Dartanian, allowing this thoughts to be known to the reader and what his group’s motives are. His scenes were fine, though they went the expected route after Page 12. Baba Yaga makes her return to the Zenescope Universe, angered that someone would be killing witches. She gets a scene to establish her power and to ally herself with another of her kind. This was my introduction to this character and I liked how she was not the typical ancient or modern witch that much of fiction has created. She’s something else entirely, and that’s what made her interesting. Obviously Dartanian is going to be a major player in this five issue run, but how he’ll survive against Baba Yaga is beyond me. I’ll be sticking through this series. Overall grade: A-

The art: The visuals on this book have thick linework. Diego Bartolo’s work is best when characters are in close-up or are alone on the page. The introduction to the Crusaders on Page 2 is good. They’re essentially an army of faceless — due to their cowls — soldiers with high powered rifles. They reminded me a little of Cobra Commander, but they were fine. In close-ups their faces are shown, such as in the second panel on Page 3. This, too, is good. However, the bottom panel on the same page is shown from their leader’s point of view, and he looks fine, but the screen that’s he watching the impending battle on has a visual that’s too blurry. It made me question the technology that the group was using. When the women are introduced on 4 the first panel is just a suggestion of figures. They are featureless on the top of the page, without even noses on their faces in profile. However, things improve with Avril’s establishment shot, making me think of Avril Lavigne with that pose, clothes, and face, and stays good for the close-up of the two girls she’s addressing. However the bottom three panels again have characters in the background have the basest work done to them. The characters are best when alone or in close-up. The character that appears at the bottom of 8 is awesome looking and I would love to see someone cosplay as this individual. Baba Yaga looks great on every page she’s on, as does her ally that appears late in the issue. The settings are fine on this book, with the forest and the, I’m assuming, castle being the two locations of this issue. As with the characters, these settings run hot and cold, with them starting out fairy strong only to become sketches by the final page; look at what the colorist had to do to establish the trees in the penultimate panel. Overall grade: B-

The colors: Michael Bartolo is doing an excellent job on this book. His misty reveal of the blood moon on the opening page is nice, are the background colors he puts behind the Crusaders when they appear. My only nit is on Page 3: I didn’t like that the leader’s control room was colored too similarly to the location in the woods, making it seem like he was in a van with the back doors open. A white would have made the setting seem more technologically advanced and unnaturally clean, as a counter for what the group was about to do. Magic is done in some slick coloring throughout: glowing eyes, energy from hands, rifle shots, kicking feet, and the violet from Baba Yaga’s staff. When supernatural abilities are used they should be in the luminescent colors that Bartolo uses. Red is also used well, with the blood moon being the same shade of red on the Crusaders’ uniforms, which is the color of blood, shown on 11. There’s an explosion on the last page that is really good, with the color darkening as it distances itself from the blast point, and the sound being bright. Bartolo is doing well. Overall grade: A

The letters: Two different types of narration, dialogue, radio transmissions, yells, sounds, and screams are conjured by Charles Pritchett. I can’t recall ever seeing a book with two different fonts employed for different narrators and that they are different from the dialogue. This is a welcome differentiation and one that others should follow. The sounds are really good on this book, with the scene at the campfire having the best. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: This is all new to me. I want to know more about the Crusaders, Baba Yaga and her ally, and what’s going to be the fallout from this breaking of a truce. An entertaining opening that has me craving more. Overall grade: A-

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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