Monarchy: Bullets Over Babylon
Posted: Sunday, January 20
By: Bruce Tartaglia & Craig Lemon
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Writer: Doselle Young
Artists: John McCrea (p), Garry Leach (i)
Publisher: DC Wildstorm/Titan Books (ISBN 1-84023-390-7)
This trade collection picks up Authority 21 (issue zero if you will), and Monarchy issues one through four, of one of Wildstorm's most misunderstood, misread and now, missed, series. It is an interesting decision for a TPB release, seeing as the decision to cancel the series with issue 10 would've had to have been made pretty early on in the life of the series, although I understand part of the raison d'etre behind this release was to see if there was interest in maintaining the series beyond this point. What is also interesting is that this book is clearly marked "1" on the binding AND on the front cover. The implication is that a second TPB covering the remaining issues will be released, and I can't wait for it.
It is impossible to review this title without some understanding of its origins, specifically, that Monarchy springs from its predecessor, The Authority. The Authority is a team of superheroes headquartered in a realm called "The Bleed". They battle the most extreme of antagonists resulting in epic conflicts that leave cities devastated. That being understood, Monarchy asserts itself as part of the same Wildstorm universe as The Authority but vastly different in its scope and intention.
Monarchy is a surprisingly sophisticated book. These five stories in this TPB are "just" the groundwork to a much larger work, and, as such, can move quite slowly. It does help that they are all in one place, but to be fair, the book had a great deal of groundwork to lay: distinguishing itself from its predecessor, introduction of new characters, relationships to each other, extent of the protagonist's battlefield and an entertaining story all at the same time. The book should prove to be even more engaging in the hoped-for volume two, but this first story collection is critical in understanding what is to come.
As an example of the immense framework we are looking at, let's look in more detail at the last chapter in the book, chapter five. You would imagine by this point that we are well into our second story arc, that everything is comfortable, and we know what is going on. Not a chance.
In this chapter, Jackson King visits his ex boss, Hishino, in hospital and telepathically converses with him. Professor Q and Christine empower a hundred year old century baby (a la Elijah Snow and Jenny Sparks) named Addie Vochs whose abilities had been suppressed at birth when Fevermen destroyed her family. The Fevermen turn out to be "nasty thought constructs" that resist Q's impressive black hole and are only defeated after Addie's "voice of the people" speaks for the first time.
Meanwhile, Union and Farmer discuss Polder Realms which are unique pockets of reality "maintained by faith and force of will". Farmer tells Union that Oz, a renowned Polder Realm, no longer exists. Towards the end of the chapter, King explains to Hishino that "post-humanity" (roughly, superpowered individuals) form a kind of planetary antibody not unlike white blood cells. When those blood cells start fighting each other indiscriminately, a cancer births. This cancer in the Bleed is destroying realities within it including ours.
In contrast to the cancer we meet Addie Vochs who channels the voice of the people. She speaks on behalf of the "moon launch and cool jazz, [...] Nat King Cole and Hiroshima." In other words, she speaks on behalf of the quiet people that have built and paid for this world's achievements with a lifetime of effort or their very lives. It seems to be the will of these people that has the best chance of stemming this cancer that destroys their (our?) world.
Through Farmer and Union, we learn that this cancer is likewise destroying mankind's ideal realms as well as his physical reality. I especially like that the Monarchy's struggle is going beyond the Wildtorm universe. The Monarchy, it would seem, will be taking on all myths, Oz and Sun Gods landing in Kansas included.
One frustration I have with the book is the artistic storytelling. The use of silhouettes is overdone and appears to be lazy rather than "mood setting". There are so many shadows that the significant ones are lost in the shuffle. For example, King's eyes emit light as he approaches the security guards whose eyes remain so deep in shadow that they are not even visible. This makes for a nice visual counterpoint which reflects the story's theme of how people view the world. Since the silhouettes run rampant throughout the issue, subtleties such as this are easily lost on the reader and should not be.
To be fair, the artistic detail, panel structure and overall visual pacing of the book has improved dramatically since issue one, but I still charge that all are still lacking. The coloring in this issue sets the appropriate mood for each scene of the book. A fine example would be on Page 3 where panel 2 shows Hishino in his hospital bed. The yellow light spill on the left side of this panel indicates light from the open door in the hallway. Panel 3 has no spill telling us the door is closed and King has arrived. The black page base upon which all panels are rendered also helps define the tone the stories. These simple but dramatic touches are nice to see.
You can go through this whole process on each of the individual chapters that form this book, you get the idea. You get as much out of it as you are prepared to put in. Monarchy; Bullets Over Babylon is a strong, thoughtful, effective book, one that provokes thought for the reader. I find this to be a welcome relief.
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