In Review: Pestilence: A Story of Satan #1

If things go well, this Pestilence will find its way into your hands and you'll never look at medieval times the same way.

The covers: A pair of covers to usher in this return to supernatural doings in medieval times. Tim Bradstreet is responsible for cover A which features a head shot of a knight wearing a helmet that has chain mail attached to it. The solider looks toward the heavens, revealing his sickly orange eyes, mottled skin, and odd tattoos on his checks. He is one of the undead, created by the supernatural pestilence that once again plagues the lands. Great cover by Bradstreet whose work is always ominous looking. The B cover is by Mike Rooth. This has a soldier of the undead holding a sword in challenge in his left hand, while holding a flaming battleaxe in his right. He’s a massive man wearing a helmet that resembles a fierce animal. Rats are leaping off him and onto the spears held up by unseen comrades. The background is composed of yellows and oranges, suggesting that this battlefield is aflame. Is this a tease of battles to come? Overall grades: A A and B B

The story: Frank Tieri is the writer, with Eric Bromberg, Brandon Auman, & Tieri credited for the story. This tale opens at the Vatican in 1351. A knight’s letter narrates that he will be dead when his letter is read, but his actions are the only way to stop the plague of the undead that comprised the previous six issue series. That way is to kill the Pope. Behind the holy man one hooded man is seen bringing a knife forward. The story then shifts to “Spain. Weeks earlier…” and Cardinal Shaw and his motley crew of knights change some of the dead back to the living by using a holy relic. The action of this artifact never fails to amaze him, though his men think differently. The scene moves again, this time to a church where Sir Richard helps those that were once zombies. He leaves his flock after seeing something disturbing and then something occurs that sets this series off on its dark path. What Sir Richard does is returned to, but the remainder of the book focuses on two knights going to visit an old friend who now lives in France. This character is done working for the church, for the Fiat Lux, but the words of these two men begin to change his mind. By the end of the book it appears that the three have no choice but reunite to stop the pestilence that has reared its ugly head. As with the issues of the previous series, I enjoyed this, though I found myself struggling with time periods and locations. For example, I was questioning if the entire series took place “Weeks earlier…” from the opening or had it returned to the present? Locations were also an issue, with respect to the church where Sir Richard is and the tavern of the heroic trio. Those issues aside, this was a fun read, to see evil manifest, old friends exchanging information, and the return of the pestilence. I’ll definitely be returning for more. Overall grade: B+

The art: One of the strongest reasons to pick up this book is the art by Oleg Okunev. It’s gorgeous. His style reminds me of Mike Ploog, whose work I admire tremendously. Okunev is an artist who is not only capable of rendering incredible characters, both alive and undead, but his settings are amazing. The opening page starts with a bird’s eye view of the Vatican surrounded by a crowd. The reader then encounters two panels of men killed by the assassin to get access to the Pope. The reader is brought into the room, seeing Clement from the back as he looks upon his flock. A turn of the page reveals a gigantic panel showing the people making merry on the streets. On Page 3 the angles begin to go cockeyed, showing the Pope, then his flock, diagonally, as if something wasn’t right with the world. With the reveal of the killer’s knife, the panels right themselves, showing that violence will make everything right again. The changing of the undead back to the living is a spectacular scene. The characters populating these panels are unique — not one is a faceless cookie cutter repeat to fill space. This is amazing. The actions that follow this are startling. What Sir Richard encounters is even more distressing. It’s graphic, grotesque, and one cannot take their eyes of the panel, looking at every little detail in the art. The faces in the character’s flesh are wonderful and disturbing. The idyllic scene that follow this is the perfect counter for what’s just been shown. Though there are some harsh emotions on these pages, the stand out visual is the scarred body of one man when he takes his shirt off. Those marks scream of history and justifies how this individual knows the two men. I like the splash page that comes up as the men talk, but this visual had me refocusing on when episodes take place in this issue. Were the visuals happening now or were they in the past? If there were occurring now, just how quickly is the pestilence spreading? Better are the panels shown outside the tavern where the men talk: those clearly communicated the speed of something. I’m enjoying Okunev’s work and I want to see more of it. Overall grade: A

The colors: The tans and browns of the first three pages clearly put this tale in the past, with only the red of the Pope’s robes providing any splash of color. The white blade that is produced to kill this man really takes the focus among the browns and blacks of Clement’s men. Colorist Rob Schwager then brighten things up considerably when moving back a few weeks and showing how Shaw saved several people from their fates. I love the water, which is an extremely pale blue — almost ghostly, reinforcing the supernatural nature of the people. The reds in the third panel on 6 are terrific, completing the visuals perfectly. Colors are key for the appearance on 11. One would expect to see this color on this character, but they are too dark on 12. So much so that elements in the artwork are difficult to make out. A lighter hue would have still had the same effect on the reader and would have allowed the art to be more visible. When a character takes his shirt off his skin goes gray, tainting him of his past deeds. Page 17 is just too darn dark: it is difficult to make out much in the larger panel. Yes, the scene is lit by firelight, but reality can take a backseat if the visuals need to be seen. The horrors of the final page are in the same location, but are colored crimson to increase the terror occurring. Hopefully this will continue to be done in all dark settings. Overall grade: B

The letters: Marshall Dillon creates some terrific text for this issue, including scene settings, a letter, dialogue, moans, sounds, and a unique individual’s speech. The scene settings are created in a font that resembles something one would expect to see in a classic film about this time period. It’s classy and suits the tale well. The letter’s text looks extremely formal, as the writing was in this era. This looked extremely authentic. The dialogue and sounds are easy to read, but it’s the speech of a uniquely different character that one will remember of Dillon’s work. This character’s dialogue is written in frenzied scrawl to match the speaker’s countenance. Whenever it appears it will send a shiver down the reader’s back. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: The plague has returned and three men must join together to try and stop it. The story is fun, weaving in classic historical settings with zombie outbreaks. The introduction of a new antagonist could make this series more epic than the previous saga. The artwork is as killer as the zombies that populate this tale. There is so much goodness in each panel that it’s a spectacle on every page. If things go well, this Pestilence will find its way into your hands and you’ll never look at medieval times the same way. Recommended. 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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