Best known for her original SF-Fantasy Elfquest, Wendy Pini changes gears here and takes on a classic, re-imagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death as futuristic yaoi. Envisioned as a three-year project, this volume collects the first four chapters of the webcomic as well as sketchbook pages detailing the evolution of the characters.
This gothic-styled romance focuses on the rich and reclusive Anton Prosper. For six years, the young man has directed the world’s top scientists on a secret project of his own devising. Not one of them knows how all the pieces fit together or what Prosper’s ultimate goal is. However, the latest addition to the staff, beautiful young Steffan Kabala, has unlocked Prosper’s secret. Now he wants to unlock the other man’s heart.
Though the story is set in the future, the era’s cruel decadence echoes the ambiance of the original Poe story, just as Prosper’s arrogance echoes that of the original Prince Prospero’s. However, Anton Prosper brings to mind another, similarly named, character – Duke Prospero, the sorcerer from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Not only do the two men have island homes, they also share a fascination with unlocking nature’s secrets. Shakespeare’s Prospero uses magic; Anton Prosper uses science. And while Anton’s associate Bunchh isn’t exactly Ariel, the two characters do share a similar fey attitude.
However, if you really want an archetype for Prosper, Lord Byron is your man. I have no idea if Byron was in Pini’s thoughts while she was penning the script, but “the mad, bad, and dangerous to know” poet could be young Prosper’s spiritual godfather.
Compare Byron’s “Matter is eternal and why not Mind? Why should not the Mind act with and upon the Universe?” with Prosper’s “But the truth is we’re nothing more than measurable particles pulled together by the power of Will.” If you want to get poetical about it, this passage from Byron’s “The Dream” is probably the best description you could have of Anton Prosper:
“ he livedSteffan Kabala is a more simple character. Or is he?
Through that which had been death to many men,
And made him friends of mountains: with the stars
And the quick Spirit of the Universe
He held his dialogues; and they did teach
To him the magic of their mysteries;
To him the book of Night was open’d wide,
And voices from the deep abyss reveal’d
A marvel and a secret-- ”
A brilliant young scientist in his own right, he seems awfully comfortable with being eye-candy and a mantrap. He’s the more emotional of the two men--the one led by his heart. Seemingly.
Pini gives enough of Kabala’s backstory that, combined with what he says and what he doesn’t say, readers will wonder if this wide-eyed young man is as honest and open as he claims to be. Part of Pini’s brilliance as a writer is that she’s more than willing to let readers become part of the story. She allows them to try to figure out what’s going on behind those still expressions in silent panels. Her wordless panels can end up saying as much as a dialog-heavy one does.
While there are several secondary characters of importance introduced in this volume, the main focus is on Anton and Steffan’s relationship. And that relationship includes sex. On panel.
While it isn’t graphic down to the depiction of the tiniest detail, there’s no doubt these two men are lovers. Masque of the Red Death isn’t about “will they or won’t they?” It’s about what happens after they do.
Sex isn’t the point of the story. It’s just another way of exploring the characters of these men. So those looking for a salacious sex romp can look elsewhere.
I have to admit, computer generated though it is, the art in this book is really fabulous--which is not to say I love every panel. The backgrounds are always beautiful; a blend of classic futuristic design and the organic. However, I occasionally have a problem with the tall, slender characters. Not in looks. They’re yummy.
While I’m sure Pini doesn’t want this work to be compared to Elfquest, I can’t help it. Anton Prosper looks like a blend between her elves Bearclaw and Strongbow--and Steffan is the lovechild of Skywise and Johnny Quest’s Race Bannon. It’s their poses that are a problem in some panels. They’re too rigid.
In general this rigidity occurs in distance shots. Close-ups are another matter entirely, engulfing the reader in a voluptuous sensuality. Pini’s lines are smooth, fluid, and languorous when the angle is in tight.
The rich color palette reflects the emotions of the scene. In the early pages Prosper is in control of the situation, entering the city and later his home against a background of cool grays and whites. Only when he remembers his father do the colors turn dark orange and red.
The black theme of a pivotal dinner party reflects the characters’ inner turmoil. The Rainbow Suites, lifted from the original short story, are used to powerful effect. The bold primary color of each room washes all other extraneous detail away, focusing the reader entirely on the characters and their emotions. It’s a very powerful and memorable set of scenes.
Taken all together, Masque of the Red Death is a superb opening volume.
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