Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
“And in the Euston Tavern you screamed it was your shout / But they wouldn’t give you service so you kicked the windows out / They took you out into the street and kicked you in the brains / So you walked back in through a bolted door and did it all again”
El Torres first came to my attention a few years ago when he wrote two superb horror comics for IDW, The Veil and The Suicide Forest. Now he’s foolishly decided to launch his very own comic book company, Amigo Comics, but you know me – I love foolish ventures, so I’m going to try to support him if the books look interesting. So far, his company has released three issues, Rogues! #1-2 and The Westwood Witches #1, and so far, they’ve been pretty entertaining. Let’s check out Rogues!, shall we? Issue #1 was drawn by Juan José Ryp, colored by Fran Gamboa with separations by Sergio R. Ceron and Carmelo Gonz. Rubén Rojas drew a back-up story. Ryp couldn’t do more than the first issue, so #2 is drawn by Miguel Genlot, colored by Rojas and separated by Carmelo González (I don’t want to assume he’s the same dude in issue #1, but I suppose it’s possible). Both issues are lettered by Malaka Studio and edited by Richard Boom. Both comics cost $3.99, and yes, I’ve railed against Marvel for charging 4 bucks for issues, but I’m much more comfortable spending 4 bucks for indie books, plus both of these issues are 24 pages long. Choke on that, Marvel.
I briefly mentioned Rogues! when the first issue shipped, writing that if you happen to like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser but wish the Gray Mouser was a hot woman who doesn’t wear a lot of clothes and has an impeccable Brazilian wax job, then Rogues! just might be for you. I admit that I’ve only read one Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories in my life, the one that Chaykin and Mignola adapted some years ago, but I think the description still fits. In Rogues!, Bram is the big, brawny dude who likes drinking and whoring, while the Weasel is far cleverer, far more cynical and pragmatic, but still tough as nails. At the beginning of issue #1, we find them at their favorite tavern, The Horn and The Maiden, telling tales of their exploits. Torres immediately lets us know this is going to be slightly different than your standard sword-and-sorcery story when Bram starts telling about “a burning heart, a fire god on the loose! A city in flames! An army of thieves!” and Weasel tells him that everyone is sick of that story and he should tell them about … the chicken. And so that’s what we get.
Torres quickly sets up a standard “rogues” tale, as a love-sick nobleman hires Bram and the Weasel to steal the love of his life from her father, the powerful wizard Amthaeramus. Of course, they find out that the “virginal” maiden isn’t quite that, but they still manage to complete the job. Amthaeramus doesn’t really care all that much – his daughter is a bit more trouble than she’s worth – but he’s peeved that two thieves broke into his tower. So he curses them by sending them chickens. Well, just one chicken at a time, but when Bram gets rid of one chicken, another magically appears. They can’t get rid of the chicken, and it begins to drive them insane. They’re in trouble with the thieves’ guild because of the chicken (don’t ask), and they’re desperate to break the curse. Unfortunately, Amthaeramus is such a powerful wizard that no one wants to challenge him. His assistant, Marty (who looks suspiciously like Marty Feldman), tells them that only one wizard can help them … but he’s dead. No problem for our heroes, and they head off to the dead wizard’s tomb and find out the secret of breaking the curse. Much like the rest of the comic, it’s not quite what you might expect.
Torres does a pretty good job keeping the plot light, which means that he gets to have some fun with the characters. He first wrote these characters in Spain years ago, so he’s been working with them for a while, and it’s clear he has a good handle on both the sword-and-sorcery stories they’re parodying and the characters themselves. He gives us two people who obviously care about each other even though they spend a lot of the comic insulting each other, but it’s the kind of insults long-time friends throw at each other. Meanwhile, he’s smart enough to play on our expectations quite nicely – obviously, once he does it once or twice we come to expect it, but then Torres changes things up and actually gives us some nice action when we think there ought to be action, so he keeps us on our toes. His comic timing is quite nice, too – in issue #1, we get two pages with 9-panel grids showing both the characters’ vexation at the chicken showing up at the worst time (including when Weasel is cheating at cards and when Bram is swiving some dude’s woman) and their ridiculous (and often violent) attempts to rid themselves of the chicken. In issue #1, when they penetrate the tomb of the dead wizard, Bram makes an off-handed comment about how easier it will be after they take care of the first thing keeping them out, which of course comes back to haunt him. It’s not wildly original to have characters in a sword-and-sorcery tale act like actual people instead of fantasy stereotypes, but it is nice when Torres is not only committed to that but also to the resolutions of the plots remaining “realistic” (as realistic as a chicken curse can be). He gets a shot in at Red Sonja, too, although if you’re paying attention, Weasel doesn’t actually change clothes in the course of the story even though Bram says she does. But the joke works, as does the cameo by the actual Fafhrd and Gray Mouser in the back-up story of issue #1 (at least I’m pretty sure that’s them). While the book remains light-hearted, the scaling of the tower in issue #1 and the visit to the tomb in issue #2 show that Torres will give us plenty of action as well as the humor, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Torres gets two different artists to draw the first story (with a third taking over in issue #3, but for an entire 4-issue arc), and while Ryp and Genlot are very different artists, they both do a good job. Ryp is known for his extreme attention to detail, and that’s what we get in issue #1, as every line is carefully delineated. Ryp tends to use some wonky camera angles occasionally which makes some of his panels hard to read, but he compensates for that with those details, which give us a very good sense of place, from the wizard’s tower to the tavern to the city, Gerada, where the Weasel and Bram ply their trade. And, of course, Ryp is quite good at drawing exaggerated characters, so we see every ripped muscle on Bram’s body and every wrinkle on Amthaeramus’s brow. Ryp obviously enjoys drawing nude figures, so Torres thoughtfully indulges him, and Ryp goes further and draws the Weasel almost falling out of her rather skimpy clothing quite often. The small strip of leather covering the Weasel’s nether regions is ridiculous, but much like the rest of the book, it seems quite satirical, as it’s just soooo ridiculous that we’re not supposed to take it seriously. Genlot’s art is more cartoony and, perhaps paradoxically, not quite as exaggerated. Bram and the Weasel are still paragons of physical perfection, but they don’t look quite as buff when Genlot draws them. I’m sure Ryp would have done a fine job on issue #2, but Genlot seems to fit the subterranean scenes a bit better, as the things our heroes encounter look more like earthy things, which they are. Both artists are quite good at facial expressions, which helps with the light tone Torres is going for. The coloring on issue #2 is a bit murkier than on issue #1, and while quite a bit of issue #2 does take place at night and underground, it might have helped to be a bit brighter. It’s something that bugs me, but perhaps it doesn’t bother others.
All in all, Rogues! is off to a fun start, and while it’s not a great comic, it’s entertaining, exciting, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Torres has struck a very good tone, and so far, he’s been helped pretty well by his artistic collaborators. You’ve probably read comics like Rogues! before, but Torres does some good things with the characters and the plot that makes it more interesting than your standard sword-and-sorcery comic. Do yourself a favor and check it out!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
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