Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Rook #6

The Rook #6, December 1980, Warren Publishing
writers: Budd Lewis, Will Richardson, Jose Ortiz
artists: Alfredo Alcala, Lee Elias, Jose Ortiz

Before I read Epic Illustrated almost a year ago, the second A Comic A Day review, I'd never read a comic book magazine before. Now, with Heavy Metal and today's The Rook under my belt, the format is becoming one of my favorites. The larger page size asserts a certain sense of legitimacy to the material, and since many of the stories I've read in this format are fantasy adventures, the wider scope parallels the genre's grander scale. I'd imagine that magazine publishing is a costly endeavor, more so than the standard comic book newsstand edition, which might explain the veritable extinction of comic book magazines in recent years. It's a shame, really. The exposure of various writers and artists in a single consistent package is a commodity this flooded industry should be able to afford.

So, ironically, while The Rook is an insightful look back in time at how comics reached its intended audiences, its title character is a time traveller, and in this chapter he is trapped aboard the warship of Robar the Conquerer with legendary authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. With the help of some adventurous Mexican friends and a wayward up-and-coming writer in the Haitian jungles below, not to mention the fellow time-travelling Bishop the cowboy and Manners the robot servant, the Rook brings Robar's ship down. When the Rook is separated from Doyle and Verne, Doyle muses what his friend Sherlock would do, and though Verne cautions that his friend's thoughts betray madness, Holmes exposes himself as a real person (Doyle stifles an "I told you so!"), undercover on Robar's ship and surprisingly spry for a consulting detective, and saves the helpless scribes. Overall, this first story was a highly engaging one, with plenty of wink-winks toward the Rook's influence on America's history and literature, an effort much more effective than recent, similar attempts like Image's Alter Nation. While such time-spanning tales usually focus on these altercations in history, the Rook's influence is merely, and intentionally humorously, coincidental, and as his name intends the Rook is but a player in a game bigger than any of us. And we the readers are the more entertained for it.

The second story, "The Viking Prince," conversely has its feet squarely on the ground, as a travelling princess accompanied by a dwarfish bodyguard and the humble son of a woodsman are attacked by a horde of one-eyed giants! The woodsman's son, Sigfrid, instantly proves himself the bravest of the bunch, firing a barrage of arrows at the giants before they effortlessly toss him into a raging river. With Sigfrid presumed dead, Princess Freyja and the dwarfish Sampson are captured and taken to the cyclops' leader, a mystical, vengeful enemy of the lady's royal family. Fortunately, Sigfrid survived the fall and, while fleeing an underwater monster, discovered a cavern that led directly to their enemy's private cave. Sigfrid frees Freyja and Samson and fights another onslaught of serpentine monsters and one-eyed giants before the King and his men finally save the day. Just when I thought that this woodsman's son was the luckiest guy on Earth, Sampson shares that the Princess is his sister. Well, save the day, check, but getting the girl, forget it. I wonder if writer Jose Ortiz intended to connect this plot twist with Sigfrid's name, which could have been inspired by Freud. Or, since this magazine is wrought with advertisements for Star Wars merchandise, Ortiz could've just taken a page from the Lucas playbook of writing oneself into a corner. The results were entertaining and noble, either way.

The last story in this trio was the shortest and dullest, begun with a eye-popping scene about the end of humanity, until the sequence is revealed to be the hallucination of Voltar, hero barbarian, suffering from a plague and seeing things. A few pages of lamenting later, a visitor arrives, and though Voltar initially thinks the guy his savior, the knight's raised weapon tells a different story. That last splash page is very beautifully illustrated and is an excellent way to end this issue, and as a newbie to this series, I would definitely read more . . . pending Voltar's apocalypse, of course.

These three stories are vastly different, but they do have one thing in common: breath-taking art. Indeed, these aspiring artists could use this issue as a lesson in intricate ink work, as each artist utilizes his respective skills to convey detail-oriented backgrounds and the textures of human flesh rather expertly. If these stories had been each flying solo, I might not have recognized this strength, but the anthology format pulled off the cooperative effort with a visual poignancy fans of comic book art couldn't help but appreciate. I've recently read that Marvel Comics Presents may return to the shelves soon. I can only hope that such a flashback opens the floodgates for other varying formats. What would be the point of becoming a fan of the magazine format if it's already a thing of the past?

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