In Review: Skies of Fire #1

This is sensational reading and has spoiled me for all other Dieselpunk works.

The covers: The Main cover shows the aftermath of the Storm Raiders’ attack on Port Prince. The skeletal remains of the Jameson Brown lies in the center of the town, several buildings have sustained damage from the giant’s demise, yet up high on a balcony the raider captain looks upon the wrath he has brought to this location. A statue waves its broken sword in defiance at the destruction delivered before its view. I’m assuming the cover was illustrated by Pablo Peppino, the interior artist of this book, though no credit is specifically given for it. The illustration is not very strong for a premiere issue. I understand the need to show the mass destruction from this angle, but pulling in tighter to the blimp and lowering the line of sight to align with the captain would have been better. The city is too distant to really see the details and the captain is lost on the balcony. Not helping is the dull coloring which renders the bottom third of the cover as a loss. A brighter title, such as yellow, would have made this stand out much more. The image used in my review is twice as bright as the actual cover. Much better is the Variant cover by Rodolfo Reyes. Though it’s not as Dieselpunk an image as the Main cover, it is much brighter and much more dynamic. A giant tan dirigible slowly moves across a cobalt blue sky, with a flock of birds disrupted by its path. Below is a dark green forest containing the title and credits of this book. Nicely done. Overall grades: Main C and Variant B+  

The story: Port Prince, part of the Aqulian Empire, Monday, Veiner 20, 724 (an alternate Earth). The dirigible Jameson Brown is coming into port to deliver a supply of twenty tons of coffee. The unloading is going smoothly until the unannounced arrival of another blimp, which has several gun ports. Things don’t go well for anyone at the port with the arrival of the Storm Raiders. The first twelve pages of this epic, written by Vincenzo Ferriero and Ray Chou, deal with this brutal pirate raid. This is not a romanticized attack by any means, it is brutal and violent. The next five pages herald the introduction of this issue’s hero, Captain Pierce. She is strong, focused, and her men are obviously devoted to her. These pages firmly establish her personality, and serve as a precursor for the final seven pages, where she and her Admiral are called before the King of the Empire to explain what happened. Pierce’s character is expanded greatly in a short amount of space, and the King and the Admiral, as well as the courtesans, have their characters established strongly. I like that the King didn’t speak until after the Admiral spoke, and really enjoyed the whispers by the courtesans. It’s on the final page that Pierce is given a major moment that looks to define the issues that follow this installment. This story was exciting, with the raiding of the town told mostly without any text, allowing the pictures to tell the story. That had to be a bear for Ferriero and Chou to write. They did an impressive job on this story, creating an epic opening that is equaled by strong characterization in front of the King. This is the first Dieselpunk story, let alone comic, I’ve read, and based on this, all other writers in this genre have just had the bar set very high. Overall grade: A

The art: When I first encountered this book at the Long Beach Comic Expo I was dumbfounded by its magazine sized proportions. It’s 8″ X 11″ and I haven’t read any visual books of this size since reading a Savage Sword of Conan in the 1980s, which was new at the time. Before I opened the book, I thought that the creators of this book were insane for having this much space to work with and having to adequately fill it. Looking at the first page I realized I had completely underestimated the abilities of artist Pablo Peppino, who also inks his own work. The page is a full page splash, made all the more dynamic by the size, of Port Prince overlooking the town, the docking ports, and a tremendous black cloud. This isn’t an illustration, this is fine art. The architecture is mad with details, including tile roofs. There’s even a train leaving the town. A reader could spend a good deal of time just looking at what’s on this first page. Turning the page, the captain and part of his crew aboard the Jameson Brown is shown, the menace of the–seeming–thunderstorm, and the crew that signals the ship to dock. Peppino expertly moves the point of view around, establishing characters, vessels, and settings. Page 6 is the only unclear portion of the story, as the visuals show damage being done, but not by whom. There are dramatic sounds, reactions, and explosions, but even a reader will be confused as to what’s going on. On Page 7, also a full page splash, the culprit is revealed and all that occurred on 6 is made clear. What follows is a graphic, detailed account of the taking of a town. Page 11 is stunning. The pursuit that follows is exciting, which is a word I never thought I would use involving two blimps. The intensity that comes off of Pierce is palpable. The final six pages is essentially a talking heads scene as the King listens to what’s happened at the port. Again, Peppino moves the action around to make it visually exciting and this scene would be a budget buster of any film that tried to match such a magnificent setting. My favorite panel is the second to last on the penultimate page. It defines a character superbly. This book is a feast for the eyes. Overall grade: A

The colors: Bryan Valenza had the nightmare chore of coloring the heavily detailed art of Peppino, and he succeeds madly. One would have to be mad to do such an incredible job on this book. The clouds are shaded, the vessels are aged with rust, soot, and sun damage (look at the Jameson Brown). The taking of the port is an explosion of colors (Pages 7, 10, and 11). The color used by the pursuers of the raiders is a brilliant choice and makes me what to see Cosplayers dressed in the same blues. The greys and golds of the final scene scream power and royalty. Valenza was definitely the right person to color this book. Overall grade: A

The letters: Scene settings, dialogue, and sounds are done by Nic J. Shaw. He does something exceedingly rare in comics–he uses lower case letters. This is absolutely correct for this book, and gives it a classical feeling by employing them. It transports readers to a different place, unseen in the majority of illustrated tales. Every sound, be they explosions, groans, blasts, or footfalls, are terrific. I really like Shaw’s work. Overall grade: A 

Extras: Before the story begins there is a map of the Aquilan Empire created by Josephe Vandel that looks as if it was created in the 1800s. It could go on a wall. There is a one page excerpt from “Unraveling the Expanse” which explains the ominous Expanse and how it impacts the Empire. There’s also the front page of the Monterey Tribune, a newspaper that details the destruction of the port. It even has advertisements that look typical of the time. Also included is a letter from the Administrator of Defense to the King regarding a build up of forces for some foreshadowed crisis. Closing out the extras is a proclamation praising those who died at the Solitude Ridge conflict. None of these extras are necessary to understand the story, but they add details that whet one’s appetite for more. Overall grade: A

The final line: This is sensational reading and has spoiled me for all other Dieselpunk works. Action and politicking on another Earth that is tense and lavish. You want to find a copy. Overall grade: A

To order:  A physical copy ($10) or a digital download ($4/$5, depending on your cover preference) may be ordered at I apologize for my not having a link in this review, but it’s worth you time to type it and get one.

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.
    No Comment