In Review: Rise of the Black Flame #4

Plenty of adventure and thrills in an exotic setting that will have readers hearing screams and chants in the night.

The cover: A girl, mentally broken, stands in the jungle waiting to be saved, while the foliage has formed into a specter of death to warn potential rescuers of the price they will pay to be her salvation. Fantastic creepy imagery from Laurence Campbell, who provided the illustration, and Dave Stewart, responsible for the colors. What’s truly eerie about this cover is that the farther one gets from it, the more clear the skull becomes. Outstanding. Overall grade: A+

The story: Bangkok, 1919 in an opium den. Farang inhales the flowery vapors from his pipe and is transported to another plane of existence. He is floating in space being greeted by a gigantic image of the Black Goddess. She speaks in his native German tongue and says, “My child. Make ready the way.” He asks what she is and she replies, “You know me of old. The indwelling flame that burns in the heart of all living things.” He pulls open his shirt to reveal his organs match the blackness of the skies that surround them. The Goddess speaks undecipherable words, and Farang responds, his eyes bursting into blue flame. With a turn of the page, the scene moves to the present where Farang, Sandhu, Jewell, and La Fleur are recovering from their experiences from last issue that resulted in the death of McAllister. La Fleur asks if they may take a break so that she can treat the wound Jewell suffered. Farang says that they can, but they should hurry, “We’re still too close to those ruins for my taste.” This provides an opportunity for writers Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson to flesh out all the characters, with Jewell dangling a deliciously adventurous past to La Fleur. While they’re speaking, Farang finds something that he’ll probably need next issue and goes on to tell the others how he got to Siam. It’s an interesting tale that provides justification for how he acts. There’s a very neat moment between Sandhu and La Fleur that made me chuckle, but the comedy and backstory come to a halt when a moan is heard and a new character is introduced. She provides the reason for the heroes to continue, though they don’t really have a clue as to what to expect, though their fates are teased on the final page. This was a riveting read, where characters reveal their dangerous pasts and the horrors of the unknown lurk just beyond one’s vision. Overall grade: A+

The art: The first page completely blindsides the reader. The opium den is established by Christopher Mitten and then a slow pull in to Farang is done in three panels, ending with the intoxicating smoke appearing. A turn of the page and the setting has dramatically changed to starry space where the man floats before the Black Goddess. She is a beautifully frightening character that draws in the reader’s focus, but has just enough of the deadly, punctuated by skulls that adorn her headdress, to stir a sense of dread from her presence. The tall thin panel on Page 3 makes Farang seem minuscule, and when countered by the second panel, which cannot contain all of the Black Goddess’s face, he seems even smaller. The contents of Farang’s revealed chest are wonderfully obscure: one can assume that they’re organs, but there’s just the right amount of darkness to have a reader think they could be something else. When flame erupts from his eyes, his orbs go ebony, which sweetly symbolize that he’s lost to the darkness. Another turn of the page and Mitten gets to draw the exact opposite of these scenes: a beautiful jungle clearing. Here the characters take a respite and the foliage makes it seem that they’re in a modern day Eden. The characters emote wonderfully, with all getting moments to shine; if one were to avoid the text, the characters’ feelings would be evident from the visuals alone. I especially found La Fleur spectacular, who with just a look had her heart opened to two characters in need. Farang is intense throughout and only grows more so on Page 9. The reaction of the character on 14 is awesome, injecting some appropriate madness into this issue. What she describes seems right out of a lost tale penned by H. Rider Haggard. The final page is jarring for what’s shown and what’s teased. These visuals are to die for. Thankfully, only the characters may have to do that. Overall grade: A+

The colors: From the first panel on the first page, Dave Stewart shows his skills. The lanterns and addicts in the foreground are brightly colored, while those in the background are lost in the haze of poisonous vapor that mars vision. One can almost taste the smoke that’s floating about. The shading of colors on the characters’ flesh makes them beautifully three dimensional. The blues used on the Dark Goddess and Farang’s eyes are a jarring shade that stand out in every panel they appear. The colors used for the setting where the characters rest are calming, which is exactly what the protagonists need, and they turn dark when the terror of their mission reappears. The flashback tales have a slick tint og brown that provide a visual clue to the reader that the events being seen are not taking place in the present. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Go-to Mignolaverse letterer Clem Robins is responsible for the text of this book which is comprised of scene settings, sounds, dialogue, moans, and a whisper. This is a fairly quiet issue, as it is the penultimate chapter of this series, so next issue will most likely have Robins creating much stronger fonts. What he does in this issue absolutely suits the tale. Overall grade: A+

The final line: This origin packs plenty of adventure and thrills in an exotic setting that will have readers hearing screams and chants in the night. An outstanding read. Highest possible recommendation. 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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