REVIEW: Book of Death – Volume 1

Writer: Robert Venditti

Artist: Robert Gill, Doug Braithwaite

Colourist: David Baron, Brian Reber

Release Date: 17/01/16

Publisher: Valiant Entertainment

QUICK REVIEW HAIKU

Dramatic layouts

It starts better than it ends

Smart art decisions

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Big crossovers have become a staple of a bloated comics industry and, despite how much people complain about them, continue to top the sales charts. Last year’s event, The Valiant, proved that bringing a large cast of characters together can still create a compelling and innovative storyline. Returning this year, Book of Death attempts to reach the same echelons, but ultimately falls disappointly between a deep, personal journey and the blockbuster madness that you might expect. The artistic work on this series is shrewdly split between two artists; they each take a distinct part of the timeline and put their own spin on the narrative that neither could have achieved on their own.

Robert Gill handles the pencils for the present day storyline and has a very suitably clear-cut style that manages to be exciting while also quite grounded. Baron’s colours are bright and colourful that clashes very nicely with the other half of the art. Doug Braithwaite handles the flashes into the dark and ill-fated future that hangs as a cautionary tale. His style is smoother and subsequently has a far more magical feeling to it that, when combined with Reber’s colours, has an ominous mist over the top of it that cements it as something to be afraid of.

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The first half of this event miniseries is paced very impressively; the confrontation between Gilad and his old compatriots feels earned and the tension between them is set up very organically. Before anything happens, we as readers are unaware of who to side with and it creates a very believable reason for why they end up at odds with one another. My one criticism with how everything kicks off is Venditti’s depiction of Ninjak. Colin King has been distilled down to his bare essence of a self-confident jackass, but there’s none of the subtlety that makes him the loveably damaged character that we see over in his solo series. Granted he’s definitely in a supporting role, but the few exclamations that we see from him feel slightly over-the-top and out of character.

The fight between the members of Unity itself is a very impressive use of layouts and page turns that feels very dynamic and suited to the medium. Framing each individual moment in a range of different angles keeps the scene feeling alive and dynamic. There are a few sound effects that have been expertly chosen and make the noise instantly appear in your mind. As a sword hits a point in the ground and you see a little “TINK”, you know what’s going to happen, maintaining the impression that you’re watching something unfold on the screen. However, the fight that unfolds over the course of the near entirety of the third issue feels almost exclusively static and superfluous. It’s framed by ominous narration, but it doesn’t help to sell the amount of time dedicated to an awkwardly placed situation.

A strength of the series from the very beginning is the intimate relationship between the new geomancer, NAME, and her new protector, the everlasting Eternal Warrior. She so very clearly adores and trusts him implicitly, as he encourages her to stand up for herself and confront and embrace the responsibilities that she’s suddenly found herself burdened with. He shows her a level of reverence and respect, while also knowing exactly what buttons to push to prove that, while he believed in her capabilities, she needed to keep going. In one of the final scenes of the miniseries, there’s one gorgeous and yet simple panel that epitomises their entire relationship that absolutely gives you a warm fuzzy feeling.

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Despite the strong setup and a real feeling of dread that hangs over everyone’s actions, it doesn’t pay off in any kind of satisfying way. The vast majority of the book is dedicated to showing how everything eventually breaks down, but, ultimately, it’s pre-empted in a way that keeps you from actually seeing anything interesting. NAME and Gilad spend a lot of their time simply on the run, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for them to develop a driving force for their story and leaves them feeling very reactionary. It would have been far more interesting to see the beginnings of the world collapsing to truly get a feeling for how important this confrontation is.

Forecasting how each member of your wider universe is going to meet their end is an absolutely fascinating concept with so much potential. The tie-ins to this series were subsequently phenomenal and showcased how to adeptly destroy confidence that these characters are going to live forever. The art in this miniseries allows the reader to subconsciously identify the transitions into a darker future, but it’s all kept too abstract and refuses to let any of the dark predictions seep into the present day. As a result, you’re left with a miniseries that still has great dynamics and exciting ideas, but ultimately falls flat in execution. This is essentially a story about the Eternal Warrior so, if he interests you, then pick this book up; otherwise, I’d recommend giving it a miss.

FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10

1794510_10152296358040871_1273862368_n Written by Mark Dickson

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