In Review: Pestilence #1

The truth about the Crusades is finally told and you'd be dead wrong to miss it. Recommended.

The covers: The Regular cover to this premiere issue is by Tim Bradstreet. This is an extreme close-up of a knight’s helmet. It’s pitted and spotted with blood, but a reader should pay closer attention to the man’s eyes that are barely seen. They are wide open in horror, perhaps at what they’ve seen or, worse, what’s happened to him: one eye is a bold blue, while the other has become a bloody mess. Could his helmet be concealing something? Only by reading this book can one be sure. Intense, yet subtle, cover. The Szymon Kudranski & Mike Rooth Variant cover is also dramatic, but not as subtle: a sword is being swung, blood is streaming in its wake, and in the reflection of the blade a severed head is seen. This noggin doesn’t look as if the person it came from was in the best of health. In fact, it looks like the person might have already been dead. Blues are used for the majority of colors, with red and white filling in the remainder of the cover. Nice, but it’s too simplistic. There are two EH! Variant Group covers created by Nat Jones. The EH! Variant A is a super close-up of a zombie wearing a knight’s helmet. It looks terrific and the colors are outstanding. The EH! Variant B is the same art, but in black and white, though there is a healthy, or is that unhealthy, smattering of red around its mouth and to make the eyes glow. This is also a good cover, and one will have to go to Canada to acquire both. Overall grades: Regular A, Variant C+, EH! Variant A A, and EH! Variant B A- 

The story: The first page is a text piece atop a map that sets up the premise for readers: “The Holy Land. They year of our Lord 1347. The men of Flat Lux — the assassin’s arm of the Church — have been dispatched to deal with a brewing situation involving a renegade Crusader and his army.” The six lead protagonists are also shown on this page, each with a picture and quick summary. With the turn of a page, the story, written by Frank Tieri, conceived by Eric Bromberg, Brandon Auman, and Tieri, begins. Roderick Helms is in meditation, accompanied by text he wrote to his wife. He states that by the time she reads his words he will most likely be dead. There will be lies she will hear about him, but what he had to do had to be done. “…I had no choice, but to do what I did. That it was for you. For our unborn son. For the world.” The visuals on the page show that he’s confronted by ten men, yet he slays them all. He makes his way outside of his shelter and sees the flames, the dead, the undead, and chaos. The story then moves to weeks earlier in the Holy Land, with the debauchery and terror that Sir Archibald and his men have brought to a castle. What happens there is very interesting, with Helms, Geoffrey Anteil and Giovanni Domenico getting some great lines and action. I especially like how Archibald was dealt with. Even better was how his followers were taken care of. On 14 the remainder of the cast is introduced, and I think I’ve already guessed the secret that young Abel holds. The following page introduces the main threat to the protagonists, with one, naturally, suffering a wound that is sure to worsen. There’s also a nice little mystery introduced on 19 that leads to the series’ premise revealed on 20 and 21. The characters and premise have been introduced and I will fervently follow where Tieri takes me. Overall grade: A

The art: Oleg Okunev is the book’s artist and he is doing a tremendous job on the visuals. His first page starts quietly, with Helms meditating, surrounded by black, isolating him. This is followed by a close-up of him hearing a noise, with the next panel showing him using his blade viciously. The sweep of his weapon is easily tracked by the stream of blood that travels in its wake. The final panel on Page 2 succinctly sums up the character: noble, strong, and violent. The men that surround him are well done, with each looking unique and not a cookie cutter of the individual next to them. The battle at the bottom of 3 is terrific and is only a taste of things to come. I was surprised at the level of debauchery on 5, but, let’s be honest, this is true to what Archibald and his men would be doing. The arrival of the heroes on 6 is great, with it tilted to show that they are not part of the normal goings-on at that location. The summary of Archibald and his men’s taking of the castle on 8 is outstanding. The smile that the character gives at the top of 9 is wonderfully threatening. The fourth panel on 13 is a terrific visual punchline to the dialogue that precedes it. Horses appear on 14 and they look great; I’ve read of artists stating how difficult these animals are to draw, and Okunev does a superb job on them, with them even emoting on 16. The character that’s revealed on 16 is creepy looking, and foreshadows all the troubles that are to follow. The final two pages of the book are a terrific tour of a famous locale that’s become Hell on Earth. Everything about Okunev’s work is outstanding. Overall grade: A+

The colors: A book set in the time of the Crusades has me picturing dark scenes. That’s the way Rob Schwager begins the book, turning one panel on the first page entirely red for the first time Helms uses his blade. Archibald’s castle is filled with browns and flesh tones for all that’s shone, which allows Helms to stand out from all with his blue cloak, which is the only semi-bright color in these scenes. The text that Helms writes his wife is set apart from the panels with a terrific strong yellow, connoting parchment. The night skies could have been ebony, but Schwager wisely cheats and uses a very cool, otherworldly violet to stand for the evening. Doing so allows him to change the background color to orange or yellow when intense scenes occur, and they certainly do on 16 and 17. Tans and light blues are employed for the final two pages to show a very different change of scenery and to create a lifelessness to the setting. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Marshall Dillon creates a stylized font for the opening page’s introduction and Helms’s text to his wife, sounds, scene settings, dialogue, text in a letter, and the tease for next issue. The font for Helms’s text is fantastic, it instantly ages the writing and sets it in this time period. The dialogue is very unique. I’ve been reading comics for over four decades, and I’ve never seen dialogue done like this. It gives the characters a very primal speech, matching the time as well. The sounds are to die for (pun intended). The book’s opening SLASSSH shows the reader that the sounds will be a perfect fit for the visuals. Dillion, once again, shows why he’s one of the better letterers in the business. Overall grade: A+

The final line: The truth about the Crusades is finally told and you’d be dead wrong to miss it. Great characters and detailed art make this a must read. It’s already going to a second printing, so grab one while you can! Recommended. Overall grade: A

To order a digital copy go to http://aftershockcomics.com/pestilence/

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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