Lee takes a look at one of the most experimental and interesting introductory entries to a comic franchise, ever.
Credits & Solicit Info:
BERONA'S WAR VOL. 1: FIELD GUIDE Original Graphic Novel Hardcover
Retail Price: $19.95
Page Count: 160 pages
Format: hardcover with dust jacket, 5.75" x 8.75", full color
On-sale Date: September 1, 2010 in comic book shops; September 14, 2010 in bookstores
Written by Jesse Labbé and Anthony Coffey
Illustrated by Jesse Labbé and Anthony Coffey
From the minds of artists/storytellers Jesse Labbé and Anthony Coffey comes this epic tale of two adorable, fur-covered races doomed by their own escalating violence! The Ele-Alta and the Cropones wage war over the island of Berona's most desirable piece of real estate: the land called Amity. Cute and cuddly on the outside, but ferocious to the core, these fuzzy fighters will continue their bloodshed no matter the cost! The BERONA'S WAR VOL. 1: FIELD GUIDE provides a great introduction to the world of BERONA'S WAR, featuring maps, devious strategies, weapons, character and troop descriptions and the history of wartime events. This is the perfect primer for the upcoming BERONA'S WAR VOL. 2: FIGHT FOR AMITY!
I've often talked about how world building is important to me. It's not just important to me. Lord of the Rings is one of the most widely loved pieces of fiction ever. Some of this is due to the time Tolkien spent on every detail of his world. The comics that I love and treasure most from Watchmen to Mice Templar to Four Eyes to Fables have wonderful worlds in them. Some use tropes and familiar stories to create a new world, some use wholesale imagination. Regardless of the methodology, these stories are so carefully constructed that they hold up to scrutiny and are more rewarding as a result.
Let me take on one of those stories, for just a second. Mice Templar is probably the most divisive title listed. It has its critical acclaim and its devoted fans. It also has its detractors. It is a complex story full of references and characters that honestly look very similar. The reason I wanted to take on this particular book is to ask a question, what if there was a Mice Templar Handbook? Would it assist in helping those readers that see less than others understand it better?
The first entry in Coffey and Labbe's Barona's War is unique in the history of comics. It is a sort of extended look at the world they are getting ready to transport us to. Not long ago, there was a preview book for the franchise that showed us a couple of the pages here and many pages of the graphic novel that will follow.
This is as it title claims, a Field Guide. It is designed to help you identify characters and weapons that will be important in the narrative to follow. It gives a brief history of the origins of the war between the Cropone and the Elle-Alta, the two cute and furry creatures that inhabit the island world.
The book presents a different take on the graphic narrative. It uses synopses of characters and highlights of the war to create an outline of the books to follow. It is a deceptively complex narrative that sneaks up on you until you realize that you have been reading a story all along. This makes it a different read from almost everything else you will find at your local comic shop. It is text heavy and uses disparate pictures to create the story in a mock text/scrap book fashion.
The art is inventive and cute. It seems like the kind of thing that would inhabit the Saturday mornings the creators cite as inspiration. There is some menace and an equal amount of levity. The designs help create the over arching themes about war through use of the iconic green army men soldiers: snipers, mine sweepers, grunts, etc. There is a bit steampunk, a touch Hanna Barbara, and some Lord of the Rings combined with the Dirty Dozen thrown in not just the art, but the story as well.
The question really is why the experiment? Is the story so complex that it requires it be taught to you beforehand? If this is the case, will the delay between volumes hurt the reader's comprehension? Even more important to the life of the book – will the normal cape and tights set pay attention and/or have the patience for this type of story. Comics are a notoriously hard niche to crack, synergy in concept and experiment with public taste is all too often off. This means that an otherwise outstanding book may not be noticed until it is too late.
Archaia and the creators should be given props for attempting the experiment and given the fun that I had reading this book, it just might work. Only time and money in the cash register will tell.
Review by: Lee Newman