In Review: Xena: Warrior Princess #4

Two artists with conflicting styles hurt the appeal of this issue.

The covers: A pair of covers for this issue that continues the chronicles of television’s greatest warrior. The Regular cover is by Jenny Frison and it features Xena and Gabrielle standing before some distant mountains. Xena has turned her head to the left quickly, her hair showing the speed of her motion, and it appears she is gripping her sword very tightly. Gabrielle, on the other hand, is turned to the right, considering something in the distance, her staff held casually like a walking stick. Frison is one of my favorite cover artists and this shows her capturing the likenesses of the actresses who portrayed these characters and the coloring is superb. There’s also a Virgin Art Variant that’s the same as the Regular cover only all the text has been omitted, giving the reader a clear view of the art that Frison has created. I love this cover as well. Overall grades: Both A+

The story: The Harpies, led by Xena and Gabrielle, are riding furiously to reach a group of Roman troops from reaching the Port of Ephesus. The soldiers have some of the Harpies in their possession and will present them before Caesar as a trophy. Xena and Ares, who’s revealed himself to be alive from the mass slaying of Gods, try to persuade Gabrielle to slow down, as they need supplies and the horses will die. The bard doesn’t want to again fail those she’s made a promise to. The four women who have been captured make plans to escape from the cart they are carried in. The Harpies do make a stop for supplies and fresh horses and it is here that writer Genevieve Valentine gets to reinforce how characters feel about one another, and Gabrielle hatches a plan. Naturally the women are able to enter the city, and naturally a fight breaks out. It’s a thrilling action piece, with one or two characters not too willing to follow the plan precisely. This creates some nice moments of doubt for the reader. The most impressive moment in the story occurs when the two leads get some time to speak in private on Pages 15 and 16. Each bares her soul to other with the pair doing something that fans have been clamoring decades for. I shouldn’t have been so surprised by the action that one character makes on 18 because that is exactly what her character would do. I was happy to see that this individual wasn’t going alone, instead being accompanied by a very familiar and fun character. I’m loving the adventure and drama of these characters! Overall grade: A

The art: This book has two very different artists on this issue. The first six pages are by Ariel Medel who’s been the illustrator on the previous issues. Julius Gopez does the final fourteen pages when the setting moves to Ephesus. The change in artists is obvious and is jarring. Medel opens the book with a sweet page of Gabrielle, Xena, Ares, and three of the Harpies riding their horses across a river. It’s an exciting first page and the small panels that show Gabrielle’s intensity are good. The second page spotlights several of the group having a conversation as they ride. The figures and horses look good, but the background in the first three panels have been distorted to show their speed. I don’t know if this was Medel’s doing or colorist Jamaberi (as I’ve recently learned from one artist on another book that the colorist distorts his work in a similar fashion), but it doesn’t look good. The captured women are shown on 3 and they look fine. The three pages that follow have the heroes dismounting to take a break. The dismount that Gabrielle makes on 4 is pretty spectacular, but seems really out of place for the moment. Gopez takes over the visuals beginning on 7 and it’s quite a change. His line work is not the traditional comic book form that Medel employs, but instead uses very thin lines, with a lot of work done on characters’ faces and skin. Looking at Page 9, the reader can see how very different this is from the start of this issue. Is it bad? Not at all. I like it, but I would have preferred it had it been the entire issue. An action sequence begins on 10 and Gopez used several oddly shaped panels to contain the fight. He’s filling in every inch of space to show this battle, but the shape of the panels takes me out of the drama. When the action has finished, the odd panel shapes continue. The art is good, but I feel as if I’m looking upon a stained glass window’s construction. On their own, both artists’ work is good, but combined they are too dissimilar. Overall grade: C

The colors: Nanjan Jamberi is the colorist on the entire issue, but the style of art really influences what Jamberi can do. Medel’s pages are incredibly bright. The colors are strong on every page, especially on the final three pages. When Gopez takes over the colors become really light, almost faded. Initially I believed this to be because the setting is night, but Page 19 is set in the daytime and it’s still very light. I want to see bright colors on Xena, as there was in the opening. A good example of bright colors being needed is on 17: look at how washed out everything is, giving the reader little focus. The standout image is the moon, but that’s a background piece that overpowers the characters in the foreground. It shouldn’t be like this. Things may improve next issue when Gopez illustrates the entire issue, but this issue comes off as faded for his pages. Overall grade: C-

The letters: Scene settings, dialogue, yells, and the tease for next issue come courtesy of Rob Steen. The scene settings are beautiful; each time they appear the reader is reminded of the time period. The yells in the book are thick letters that seem much more realistic than the oversized hollow letters in other books. I was missing sounds in this issue, which are a key component of the television series. It’s not Steen’s decision to insert them, but I’m confident he would have increased the power of the action sequences. Overall grade: B+

The final line: Two artists with conflicting styles hurt the appeal of this issue. The story remains strong, but the change up in visuals took me out of the book. With only one artist illustrating the next issue, my hopes are high for improvement. Overall grade: B-

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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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