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The Blackburne Covenant

It’s always amazed me how very close our fictions come to being our realities. For every story ever written about a tragic, Romeo-&-Juliet-esque romance, there is an equally tragic “real life” story about two kids who made a suicide-love pact. History itself is rarely based completely on facts, but on extrapolations from actual facts, myths, and sometimes-outright heresy from historical figures or documents. Depending on your historical perspective, Alexander the Great was a land mongering bastard or a man of intellect who strove to preserve the cultures of conquered lands while forming an empire.

The fictions we create become just as much a part of our world as the hard facts that make up our history, and affect the world in equal ways. This blurring-of-the-line dividing fiction and history is very much at the heart of Dark Horse Comic’s The Blackburne Covenant by Fabian Nicieza and Stefano Raffaele.

Richard Kaine has finally written something worth publishing. Wintersong, his first novel about a group of earth mystics who are crushed by a covenant of medieval Barons and landowners, is #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and garnering acclaim from critics and fans alike. In fact, so many find the story so captivating that people are clutching at conspiracy theories stating that the book might well be historically accurate. Which is funny to Richard Kaine, the man who made it all up.

Or did he?

In the face of trying to write his next book, and failing drunkenly at the task, Richard begins to see the world in a different light: namely a green and somewhat glowing light, where living beings from flora to fauna glow with strange colors. What’s more, a man who wears the mark of Richard’s fictitious antagonists, The Blackburne Covenant, attacks Richard and escapes. Suddenly, the world is getting weird, and Richard is having a hard time deciding whether Wintersong is the ramblings of an active imagination, or his own memories come back to haunt him. And he’ll have to decide quick, or end up dead…literally and literature-ly.

I’d never read Fabian Nicieza’s work before this miniseries, as most of what I remember his name appearing on were various titles from the early 90s like X-Force and New Warriors, neither title being something I cared to buy. I’m glad I didn’t, because I’m almost sure I would have been biased against him for ever asking the comic reading community to take a superhero named “Speedball” seriously.

Nicieza’s work here is really good. He writes Richard in a complex way, but gives the reader no indication of Richard having to fit any role. He is not heroic, nor is he malevolent. He’s just Richard, and by creating a character that has no literary archetype, Nicieza forces the reader to not label him. It makes him an unpredictable character. Also, Richard is intransigent threw most of the book; things happen to him, he doesn’t cause them. He kind of cruises down the path that most easily presents itself and never really shows a willingness to affect his world until the fourth act.

Normally, I would malign the writer for making a character so beholden to the plot of the story, but the idea that a man can be living a story is a theme that runs throughout the book, and the fact that he begins to shape his destiny towards the end shows that the character has changed, especially in the creative way that he devises to “save the world.”

Also, the idea of fiction and history being related is felt all through the story. Nicieza demonstrates that in the way he will seamlessly transfer from modern day scenes with Richard to the fictional scenes involving his Wintersong protagonist Talinada. Her story feeds into the meta-text of the whole graphic novel, highlighting transition points for Richard as his character changes, along with his view of the world. Talinada is as much a character as Richard in the way the reader gets to see her story unfold in the past tense, as Richard becomes aware of his ties to Talinada.

The artwork is most excellent. I’ve also never seen anything from Italian horror artist Stefano Raffaele, and was just as impressed with his art as Nicieza’s writing. His drawing style seems like a more angular and less clean Dustin Nguyen, with a good understanding of using shadows to create just a touch of tension in the panels. He also throws in some subtle references to the divine; one appearing right at the beginning during a crucifiction scene. His faces are sometimes cluttered with too many facial lines, but this is mostly done on throwaway characters that are only meant to be the Red Shirts of the comic, so there’s nothing lost in that respect. I especially like his lighting effects and the warped reality shots from Richard’s perspective. He can make a tea bag look interesting through the cunning drawing of power flares and such. I was especially impressed by one series of panels, where Richard hallucinates while looking at the empty lot that used to be Ground Zero, and sees the World Trade Center spring back to life, this time covered in green and expanding to cover the city. Raffaele draws his people as well as his architecture.

This is a damn good comic and well worth the $12.95 price tag. And it’s nice to see the long forgotten art of the miniseries is not totally gone from comic store racks, lost somewhere in the bustle of maxi-series and three issue wonders that seem par for course today. Pick this book up, and you won’t regret it. Just remember: powerful mystic magic users is fiction; crazy guy alone and naked in the woods trying to summon rain…a sad but true reality.

The Blackburne Covenant

Robert Sparling

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