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The Realm vol 1


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The Realm vol 1 back

Jeremy Haun, Seth Peck & Jeremy Haun

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8.99

Page 45 Review by Stephen

"You do know killing our clients is bad business, don't you, Will? Dead customers are not repeat customers."

I've tried to keep that in mind throughout my career.

There may have been the odd lapse, but our basement's been rebuilt since then.

The key to any cover is to intrigue. The same goes for early pages: they should entice you to ask yourself questions.

The silent sequence opening Terry Moore's RACHEL RISING and Nabiel Kanan's equally eerie introduction to THE DROWNERS did precisely that.

Similarly, so much of THE REALM'S initial narrative storytelling is visual alone, such is the shared understanding between its co-creators that implication is far more fun and emotionally involving than being buried under a mountain of mind-bludgeoning exposition. Leave us to pick it up and work it out for ourselves - and even fend for ourselves in video games - and we're more likely to invest early on.

Never show your full hand on a first pass. Lure or you lose.

We have a modern American city-sprawl, almost entirely deserted and whose infrastructure is down.

It seems utterly inert.

No one is shopping and wrecked cars are abandoned in shopping mall parking lots. There's no traffic, and no trains are running. The skyscrapers are largely left standing but their windows are mostly blown out, even several storeys up. Electricity appears entirely offline.

Instead, crystalline-graphite-like citadels with glowing, monocular hollows float overheard; around them swarm dragons or "drakes". Within those floating citadels the architecture appears to be classical, ecclesiastical and very ancient, but then abruptly clinical. An obedient priest with a red-glowing eye enters a ritual, ringed centre and performs a sacred ceremony at some certain cost, making a solemn exchange and a proclaiming a vow.

From all this I think we can infer that an invasion or at least an incursion has occurred, and since there's no renewed vegetation thrusting its way through the asphalt or creeping over the sheer, straight-lined girders (coloured to iron-oxide perfection by Nick Filardi) it's evidently happened relatively recently, within living memory.

Across this detritus-strewn emptiness - though preferably under its industrial overpasses - two figures cautiously make their way: a woman on horseback being led by a man with a shotgun. They are late for an assignation with a man on a make-shift throne whom they address as King. Is that his surname? Is he a crime lord? Or has the entire world gone feudal?

"Nolan! I was starting to get a little worried you'd fallen into some kind of trouble!"
"Jesus! I'm not even a day off schedule, King. I've got the girl as promised, and you've got my money, I'll gladly be on my way."

Not much due deference in the language there. There's not a great deal of courtly oratory in exchange.

"Straight to business! I like it! I hope the job didn't prove too difficult."
"It wasn't easy. Your intel sucked, and there are half a dozen drakes in the air between here and Missouri."

Part of that lousy intel involved an under-estimation of the girl's captors' numbers. Also: the lady in question turned out not to be said King's daughter. She was traded as skin for antibiotics; antibiotics which proved beyond their sell-by date. So this wasn't a rescue mission, it was a reprisal. That piece of withheld intelligence is only coming through now.

Can you spell "reciprocation"?

So yes, everything appears to be in short supply now, scavenging a necessity: even used toothbrushes appear to be a cherished commodity and I appreciated Haun's subtle, bristle-bent emphasis on the 'used'.

The most immediately alarming transformation which the environment has undergone, however, lies within its general population. Gone are the mad commuters bustling down avenues, talking to themselves loudly while pretending to be on their cell phones; instead there are hoards of marauding, opportunist orcs and exceptionally acrobatic, armoured goblins. I liked the grit in their speech balloons.

This is the lie of the land and tradition dictates, almost universally under such adverse circumstances, that the protagonists must set off on a journey. Barricading yourself in, then sitting tight, doesn't make for good comics, film, television or prose.

So it is that a certain Miss Molly - exceptionally proficient with a bow and arrow and she sure doesn't flinch under pressure - hires Will Nolan and his helmeted scout Rook to help her and Laszlo escort two scientists across open country, west to Kansas City. We still don't know why, five chapters in, though the elder Doctor Burke does carry some sort of cargo, perhaps a flask, which Miss Molly at least is aware of. Younger David also harbours a secret, about which I'll stay shtum. Neither wants to carry a gun, but as Laszlo reminds them:

"Hey, Doctor Burke, remember when we got attacked by those orcs outside Springfield and you science them to death?"

They're going to need those guns.

The main focus is on the immediate impediments thrown up in our travellers' path as they cross a much-altered country. Also, on a waif and then a stray they pick up along the way: Eli, then Zach. Eli at least appears to have survived through holing himself up amongst tunnels, but Zach they found wandering the ruins unmolested, unscathed, in a daze. His memory is hazy.

It's there that I'll leave you with an intransigently suspicious Rook on the look-out, above. They'll be glad that she is, for there aren't just opportunists on the prowl; there are unorthodox armies with specific agendas, when you think about it, almost every invasion carries with it other, unforeseen ramifications for the land's indigenous population.

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