The major comic companies get enough reviews and press, it’s time for the creator-owned and indie series to get some love and judgment. Indie review takes up-and-coming indie and creator-owned series and puts them through the review process so you can confidently support the best of the small press and passion driven projects in the comic industry.

 

IR-EmpireWolf-00The Info Bit

Title: Empire of the Wolf #1

Genre/s: Paranormal/Historical

Writer: Michael Kogge

Penciler: Dan Parsons (Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Harpy)

Colorist: David Rabbitte (Star Wars Insider) & Dan Parsons

Letterer: Marshall Dillon (Game of Thrones, Green Hornet)

Publisher: Sword & Planet Studios

Number of Issues: 1 (of 4)

Page Count: 26

Price: $1.99 (digital)

 

The Review Bit

IR-EmpireWolf-01Empire of the Wolf is an interesting new comic series by Michael Kogge and Dan Parsons that places werewolves in Britannia during the 1st century Roman Imperial expansion into the country. In a time where the paranormal focus of literature and visual media is more heavily placed on vampires and zombies, it’s nice to see a return to lycanthropes. But don’t think this is just another paranormal comic with little more to it than some dark, supernatural beast. No, Empire of the Wolf is much more, existing as a wonderful piece of historical fiction with some rather brilliant art.

Empire of the Wolf opens with a great narrative foreword that really sets the mood. Speaking of classic historians of antiquity, the comic sets a tone of historical accuracy and an epic Roman tale before telling the readers everything they know about Rome could be false and this comic is what will first speak the truth. From that attention grabbing start up in the first page, the sequential art begins with a setting of Britannia in the mid-1st century, under the reign of Emperor Claudius. The Romans have just begun their conquering expansion to the Northern isle, explained to us over a very metaphoric scene of wolf and stag. It is after this we are introduced to two of our protagonists: Roman legionnaires Canisius Sarcipio, an ex-gladiatorial slave who earned his freedom, and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, a nephew of the Emperor and true Roman. These men could not be more different, and yet they serve together under Rome’s Second Legion and the General Vespasian (history buffs might recall him as being one of the emperors that succeeded Nero). IR-EmpireWolf-02Under their General’s command, the legion makes its way to a village housing the Catuvellauni tribe, a particularly rebellious group of early British warriors that are resisting Rome’s expansion and sacrificing Roman soldiers to their druidic faith. The battle is a slaughter, with the hot blooded Lucius leading the kills alongside his calmer partner, Canisius, who seems to enjoy the blood bath far less despite his skill in it. During this battle we get a brief look at Canisius’ past as a gladiator and the woman both he and Lucius love, Lavinia Rubria Seneca, a Virgin of Vesta and citizen of Rome left behind in the Imperial capital.

As the battle between the Romans and the British savages continues, the Catuvellauni fall quickly, save one. The king of the Catuvellauni, Caradog, is a brutish warrior with a legendary blade and a few tricks up his sleeves. Brutally pushing past Lucius and Canisius, the warrior does some history changing damage to the legion. Our two protagonists are only spared by a bit of kindness being returned to the honorable Canisius. But not allowing themselves to be defeated, Lucius and Canisius strike out alone to hunt down Caradog, leading to a very dramatic conclusion to the series’ first issue.

Empire of the Wolf is an amazing comic, both in story and art. With exception to the obvious, werewolves and a surprise twist mid-issue, this story is often quite historically accurate. The depiction of Roman soldiers & military items are often spot on with current historical understanding and many of the written facts subtly hidden in the dialogue & captions could serve as a great Roman history lesson. It is the very ideal of what one looks for in historical fiction. IR-EmpireWolf-03Even one of the last bits of issue #1’s dialogue tragically predicts an event in Roman history that those familiar with will cringe at, knowing it unfolds in July of 64. Kogge masterfully crafts his tale around historical events, and builds upon the epic period by referencing them and even noting classical historians like Suetonius and Tacitus. Just this setting alone builds the tale up, yet the fictional end is something even more amazing. Kogge creates several strong and interesting characters, placing them in the intense paranormal situation of hunting down a werewolf well before the invention of silver bullets. Needless to say, it is unlikely everyone we’re introduced to will get out alive, and there is a large amount of edge-of-your-seat tension because of this. With good dialogue and a poetic narrative, this story is written just right.

Over on the art end, Dan Parsons proves his skill with a pencil. The issue features no inks, as David Rabbitte and Parsons color directly over Parsons’ pencils. The shading brought on by the pencils gives this a very lovely and unique visual effect. But in the art we also see a wonderful attention to detail in the armor and weapons, both respecting historical styles and looking amazing to readers. Fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones, who picked up the DVD/Blu-Ray and peeked through the special features, know that Parsons was a master at depicting the history of Westeros, but now we have proof that he is a master of depicting Roman history as well. IR-EmpireWolf-04Unfortunately at times some of his anatomy comes off a bit strong, with slightly larger heads or stronger jaws than my tastes tend to go for and women that look good but just aren’t on the comic book level of sexy you might expect from Adam Hughes or Terry Dodson. Never-the-less, this is easily passed over by the amount of effort put into some of the brilliant panels that fill the first issue. Excuse me for being a bit like Kanye West, comparing 300 to something Roman, but Empire of the Wolf makes 300 look like drek. Narratively I can make a few comparisons to Frank Miller’s Greek graphic novel, especially with the opening involving the wolf, but if you were a fan of that comic you’ll quickly toss it aside when reading through Empire and absorbing the breathtaking battle scenes Parsons has penciled out.

Marshall Dillon does a magnificent job on the comics lettering, avoiding the clichés of Comic Sans and going with a much rawer font for dialogue, that truly pops in bold words. I can’t be certain, as it is a rarity in this day and age of comics, but the dialogue almost looks hand lettered. It seems quite unlikely, but just giving that impression says something great about the lettering job. It honestly stands out, but in a very good way. The entire production of this comic looks and feels great. The physical copies are on a nice, high quality paper stock and make for a wonderful presentation you’ll be glad to have in your hands and consider well worth the cover price.

 

The Rating Bit

Empire of the Wolf #1 is just an amazing start to what looks to be a brilliant comic mini-series. The whole comic, from physical copy to story to artwork is just stunning. I couldn’t possibly have imagined I would’ve enjoyed it as much as I did, easily rating the issue a 9 out of 10. This is an epic paranormal tale with hints of romance over a very strong historical backdrop, which has been weaved wonderfully into the story. I highly recommend going out and picking up a copy, which you can order digitally on Comixology or Alterna Comics, if you can’t track down one of the limited physical editions that were available at Long Beach Comic Con and potentially at future shows listed on the publisher’s website.