Even if you aren't a huge Marvel fan, you have to tip your hat for what they've managed to accomplish. In a decade's time they've gone from bankruptcy to being the dominant force in the comics industry. Personally, I haven't been too pleased with the majority of their superhero titles the last couple of years-- I find many of them too dark, too event-driven, characterization-poor, continuity ignorant and both inappropriate for and impenetrable to potential younger readers. But they do sell like crazy, and it's hard to argue with success. Also, it's dangerous to generalize-- they do cater to old-timers like me with stuff like Agents of Atlas, retro Spider-Man minis, and various Joe Casey continuity-implants. Marvel has also done a fine job of branching out and trying to appeal to a wider range of potential readers. They adapt other media with projects like Dark Tower, Magician, Anita Blake, and even classics such as the Odyssey or Treasure Island. For SF and space opera lovers like you and me there's the terrific line of Annihilation books and, more importantly for the purposes of this review, their well-advised partnership with the European publisher Soleil.
Whoever's job it is to select which Soleil properties to bring over to the U.S., I say "bravo" to you and keep up the good work. In my first post on this blog I extolled the virtues of Universal War One (now available in a collected hardback, btw). I didn't collect Sky Doll or Samurai, but saw how gorgeous they look, and I think their latest release, Christophe Arleston and Adrien Floch’s Ythaq: the Forsaken World, may be their most beautiful book yet.
Lieutenant Granite Welgoat is an astronavigator aboard the Comet's Tail, a luxury starliner ferrying wealthy clientele between exotic worlds. As punishment for repeated tardiness in reporting for duty, Granite has been assigned the lowly task of serving drinks to the passengers. Which is why she is behind the bar in the Marina Lounge when a strange spatial anomaly literally tears the ship apart. Luckily, individual sections of the ship are designed to seal up and become self-sustaining escape pods in case of emergency. Trapped inside with a tousled-haired happy-go-lucky maintenance tech named Narvarth and a gorgeous but snooty young socialite named Callista, Granite rides the escape vessel as it breaks away from the doomed cruiser and plunges down to the surface of an uncharted world in the middle of nowhere.
The first issue doesn't really explain why or by whom the planet Ythaq is "forsaken", but it certainly is a strange and perilous place for three strangers to make their way through. After a rough ocean landing, their entire escape craft is swallowed whole by a giant sea monster. No sooner do they get out of this fix then they are put on trial by fuzzy tusked primitives with speech impediments for wrecking half their village. The trio land in one predicament after another as they cross the foreign landscape in search of fellow survivors, as well as chunks of the downed ship that may contain a transponder that can be used to signal for help.
As if navigating across a strange world and dealing with its bizarre lifeforms wasn't enough of a challenge, our heroes remain barely a step ahead of deadly saurian-steeded warriors breathing down their neck. These mercs are in the service of the local ruler, a sadistic femme fatale bedecked in jeweled silks and cowl called Margrave Ophyde. It not entirely clear why she's so hot to capture as many survivors as possible, but considering she whips and even eviscerates even her own lackeys who displease her, it can't be anything good.
Allow me to commence gushing profusely: Adrien Floch's artwork is absolutely gorgeous. Based on his landscapes, cityscapes, costume design and creature creations, he would be a boon to any movie production; everything is rendered in painstaking detail and every page crackles with imagination. The aliens are fascinating and the girls are sexy (I suppose Narvarth is sexy too, if you're into that sort of thing). One major regret is the artwork has been shrunk down from its original album size to fit a standard American comic page. On the upside, each page has four tiers of story rather than the usual three, meaning more story in a book already a generous 61(!) pages in length. You'll be wanting to reach for a magnifying glass to take in every aspect of Floch's exacting work.
Do yourself a solid and find a copy of Ythaq: the Forsaken World #1-- if your LCS doesn't have any, ask 'em to order you one, or hie thee to the internets. I do worry about the long-term success of the Marvel/Soleil venture; it's so far outside the safe spandex-clad comfort zone of most U.S. comic readers. In my pessimistic way, I do expect it to be a noble failure. But hope springs eternal, and as long as fantastic books of this level of quality continue to be released, I'll be first in line to snap 'em up!