In Review: Æther & Empire #2

This continues to be an excellent Steampunk adventure.

The cover: This second issue of Æther & Empire looks like a gilded leather bound book. Created by Tim Yates, there’s a filigree running around the edges of the book, with the image of the H.M.S.S. Jules Verne in the upper left corner. In the opposite corner is Lillian, the woman that Barnaby Dunwood pines for. Below her is an ink bottle and quill, while below them is one of the iron bell satellites. To the left of this object are the Houses of Parliament, with a crude outline of the solar system just above them. Immediate above the sun and its satellites is a horseless carriage. In the center of the piece is the title of this series, and in the bottom third are the last names of writer, artist, and colorist. Very nice. If there should ever be a hardcover edition of this series, the cover has already been completed. Overall grade: A- 

The story: “The Status Quo” by Mike Horan begins in 1879 London at night. A horseless carriage makes its way through the streets before arriving at a house. A servant opens the door for Mr. Barnaby Dunwood, who apologizes for the hour of his arrival, but he asks if the lady of the house is in. As Lillian is fetched, Dunwood waits in the parlor where he finds a book he gave his friend Douglas. Lillian comes from upstairs asking if he’s heard from Douglas. He hasn’t, but he’s to go on an expedition to find him. She asks to come with him but he will not allow it. “Because if anything happened to you, I couldn’t live with myself.” The story then returns to Captain Bristow, the hero of last issue. He is picked up at the dock by Admiral Chesterfield, Francis Meeks of the Foreign Ministry, and Major Bronson Quigley of the King’s 4th Regiment of Foot. These men tell the new captain of his next assignment, one that he finds unbelievable. He’s going to Mars. Horan gives good justification why Bristow has been chosen. Before he gets near a ship, the story moves back to Dunwood and introduces several other characters who will be accompanying him on the voyage. The debate on board the H.M.S.S. Jules Verne at dinner is lively and defines several characters and what their expectations are for this trip. It’s an expected clash of goals, but Horan is still just starting this series off. There will be plenty of time to learn more about others and see how they bond when they encounter trouble in space. A very engrossing tale. Overall grade: A

The art: Doing both pencils and inks on this issue is Bong Ty Dazo. The opening splash page of London is an excellent introduction to the time period and creates a very Victorian tone. The second page’s horseless carriage is a wonderful transport, similar enough to a normal carriage, but with enough Steampunk modifications to make it interesting to look at. It was good of Dazo to have included the reactions of two passersby. Pages 3 – 6 have all the lavishness of the time period and could be from any novel of that time. Dazo does a good job on the scenes set within Bristow’s carriage ride: it’s a tight space, yet he is able to make the pages interesting by moving his point of view around and putting some good emotional focus on the characters. The location arrived at on Page 11 is impressive. The visuals really take a turn into science fiction when the heroes board the iron bells on Page 15. The first appearance of the Jules Verne is a Wow moment, resembling Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The interiors of the vessel would do Verne proud with their Victorian design, set against a huge portal that views the void of space. This book would not be successful if the visuals weren’t of quality and they definitely are. Overall grade: A

The colors: Victorian colors are often dour browns and grays accompanied by blacks. This makes for dreary visuals sometimes, but that’s not the case in Tim Yates’s work. The opening page would lead a reader to believe that the colors will be dark, but with a turn of the page some purple curtains, blue ornamentation, and some emerald clothes brighten the scene. The same could be said of the off yellows used for the sound effects. Inside Lillian’s home, candle light provides much color to the setting and the scene between the lady of the house and Barnaby is back lit with some beautiful light blues, creating an intimate mood. Throughout the book brick red provides some splashes of color, whether it be in the architecture or the uniforms of soldiers. No color is so bright or garish to have the reader not think that he or she is looking upon actual images of the time period. An excellent and smart job. Overall grade: A 

The letters: Scene settings, the story title, sounds, dialogue, and a whisper are all brought to life by Crank! All look great and are very easy to read. The scene settings are a very neat way to slide readers into the time period, and the work on the story title is also impressive. Overall grade: A

The final line: This continues to be an excellent Steampunk adventure. The story is still in its early phases, setting up the characters and situations. There’s not any action in this issue, but it’s still an entertaining read. Overall grade: A

To learn more about Æther & Empire go to http://bluejuicecomics.com/wordpress/

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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