In Review: Crimson Lotus #1

A frightening opening leads to a mystery in China's Russian quarter.

The cover: Small Miryoku is colored red and stands before the reader holding out a red sash. Behind her the gigantic figure of Rasputin looms, his mouth hidden by the young girl, but his piercing yellow eyes and hideous straight hair can be spied. And behind the mad Russian is a massive red skull and some other bones. The contrast of the red and black is striking. This is a very memorable cover by Tonci Zonjic who’s known for illustrating the adventures of Lobster Johnson. Overall grade: A

The story: It’s early morning on February 9, 1904, on Meishin Island in the Yellow Sea. Miryoku is chastised for being up so early watching the battle that’s occurring on the waters. A woman takes her down from the hill where she’s watching the violence and the pair hide as they see seven men men making for a temple; Rasputin is leading this group. Miryoku breaks away from the woman. “I must get papa! It’s his job to stop Russians!” At the wooden door to the building Rasputin allows the tall scared man to break it open with his rifle. Within is a altar with a golden statue. Just as the Russians take possession of it, three Chinese Military Policemen enter with rifles. Rasputin waves his hand and the men’s weapons explode. Two of the policemen run away in fear, but one remains — Miryoku’s father. The man bravely draws his sword to kill Rasputin, but things do not go as he had planned against the Russian. The actions on Page 6 are frightening, but Rasputin is not able to walk away unnoticed. What happens at the end of 7 will take the reader aback and the actions on 8 are incredibly heartbreaking. On Page 9 John Arcudi moves his story to Harbin, China in the summer of 1932. It is here that several characters are introduced, a familiar Russian man, his wife, and their doorman. The couple is returning from a night at the theater and all seems fine, though they are being watched. The story then moves to Hong Kong where a man is being chased by a pair of men with guns. Who this man is will become very important, as will the events in Harbin. This was a cool beginning to the story, though the title character didn’t appear in the way I thought she would. I love the inclusion of Rasputin into the Lotus’s life and I’m liking the new characters. The ending is a great, startling surprise and has me eager to see what happens next. Overall grade: A

The art: Mindy Lee is doing a great job on this book. She begins by showing conflict between two ships on the sea and then moves to the beautiful face of the incredibly young Miryoku. Her sad eyes will break any reader’s heart. I like on the second page how Lee shows the woman and the girl hiding in the darkness as they see the Russians from a distance. The stance of the lead figure should have made his identity obvious, but the close-up in the fourth panel had me recognize it was Rasputin. New character Suriv has a face covered in slashing scars, looking as if he’s encountered one of Clive Barker’s Cenobites. The reveal of the interior of the temple and the statue on 3 is fantastic. The grin that ends that page is so full of joy and fright it’s delicious. The shock at the bottom of 4 is great and I love that the character that receives the focus also displays anger. Page 6 is a horror show, plain and simple. It’s what’s needed to show the power of Rasputin and Lee makes it terrible to witness. The encounter that ends 7 is constructed in a way to build an incredible amount of tension before the reader turns the page. 8 is constructed of five horizontal panels that show someone moving from one location to another. There’s only one word of dialogue in the final four panels, ending with a horrible reveal. In these first eight pages Lee has taken the reader on a frightening journey. The reveal at the top of 10 will have the reader recall someone from the first 8 pages, while the final image on the page creates a terrific sense of foreboding. The setting and the chase on 11 – 14 is great, with the characters and the settings excellent. The transition between the first and second panel on 16 sets the stage for the pair of reveals on 17 which show some violence with very different characters. Both look great and I’m hoping that more opportunities are given to Lee to do more of these individuals and their ilk. The last page of the book, again, has Lee building tension well and ending with something unexpected. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Lee’s work. And I want to end with Page 18, panel two: Bond, James Bond. Love it. Overall grade: A

The colors: This issue’s colors are by Michelle Madsen and she does a slick job in directing the reader with the artwork. The noises of the battle are given an orange that has them stand out against the dark night. Miryoku’s face is given the same color of flesh as other characters, but because her eyes are so large, her skin draws the reader to the whites of her eyes. Placing her in a brightly colored robe is another way to have her draw attention in the darkness. Rasputin’s eyes and teeth always stand out against his gray face and black hair and dress. When horrific actions occur the background turns to yellow and becomes brighter the more the action intensifies. The reds on 7 and 8 are realistic from their source, rather than in neon crimson. I liked that. The light sources, seen and suggested, on 9 and 10 are outstanding, giving the setting a strong sense of reality. When a tale is told on 16 and 17 the setting is incredibly dark which allows the individuals on the latter page to be a shock. The use of reds on 18 and 19 reinforce the story and the country discussed. Overall grade: A

The letters: This issue’s text by Clem Robins consists of sounds, scene settings, dialogue, and many yells and screams. One of the hallmarks of a strong letterer is their ability to make the scene settings and the dialogue different fonts, rather than rely on the shape or color of the boxes or balloons that contain them. Since they communicate two different things to the reader they should be in different fonts. I’m glad that Robins does this. The sounds in this book are big, making the actions that created them bigger. There are several yells and screams, all in different sizes and fonts, showing the reader how each should be heard. Overall grade: A

The final line: A frightening opening leads to a mystery in China’s Russian quarter. Solid scares, great action, with fantastic visuals make this a book to pick up. Overall grade: A

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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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