Friday, October 28, 2016

Death Vigil Vol I Art and Story by Stjepan Sejic

 Death Vigil Vol I
Art and Story by Stjepan Sejic

That Necromancer has a fine nose! I shall take it!”
Gunnar undead super Viking

Stjepan Sejic is a Croatian born writer and artist, there's not much about him floating about except for the fun tidbit that he wanted to be lawyer before becoming an artist. This is Mr. Sejic's 2nd appearance on this review series; he was an artist for Rat Queens, and I did say we would be reviewing this series sooner or later. Promise made... promise kept! He does most of his work for Top Cow Studios. You may be asking “just what is Top Cow studios?” and that's a fair question. Top Cow is the little sister company of Image Comics, which was founded in 1992 by a group of comic artist rebelling against the policies of the big two (Marvel and D.C), centered around the idea of letting creators keep ownership of their own characters. The biggest early hit of Image Comics was the demonic hero Spawn (if you don't know who this is... you missed the 90s, which honestly isn't that terrible of a thing). Today Image's biggest hits are a pair of comics known as Saga and the Walking Dead. Marc Silvestri, one of the founders of Image set up Top Cow as his own studio, working mainly on a comic named Cyberforce (I'm not looking into this because there is no way that the Cyberforce on paper is as awesome as the Cyberforce I'm imagining right now. I will leave my delusions pure on this one). Top Cow's line up would later include comics like Witchblade. I'm just going to go ahead and admit that I didn't read lot of Top Cow comics and still haven't. So let's get to the book itself.

The story itself is mainly told from the viewpoint of two characters, although it does skip around a bit. In a break from tradition, we meet both characters on the day of their first death. Let me address them in order of appearance. First we have Sam; Sam was coming home from a Halloween party when he saw a pair of girls being mugged, since he was dressed as a cop he jumped in hoping his fake gun would scare off the mugger. He got shot, then he died in an alley. Clara on the other hand had just said “I love you” to her boyfriend for the very first time. She then agreed to accompany said boyfriend on a visit to his father's grave as it was the anniversary of Daddy Dearest’s death. After showing her the grave and going on a crazy rant... he stabbed Clara to death as part of a magic rite to break the veil between life and the beyond. Then in both cases the Reaper showed up with a recruitment spiel. The Reaper in this case being a cheeky pale lady by the name of Bernadette, who is looking for a few good (dead) folks to given a second shot at life--with a price. Her recruits will be locked into a war with inhuman monsters who seek to destroy reality as we know it and their all-too-human servants, the Necromancers. The Necromancers bind themselves to creatures beyond the limits of our universe they call Primordials, who honestly look like Lovecraftian monsters filtered through H.R. Giger. The cherry on top of this is that Primordials eat people, so it's difficult to see any peace treaty really getting off the ground. On the flip side you do get immortality, superpowers, and membership in a rather nice social club. There's also the perk of not being dead so it balances out if you ask me. The superpowers come from the magic weapons created by Bernadette's scythe. Well they're not always weapons, sometimes they're a deck of cards, a mask, goggles, or a even a magic feather.

This story is more about Clara with Sam as an observer honestly, as it's Clara's abilities and insight that move the plot along. That doesn't mean that Sam doesn't get anything to do or doesn't get some nice character movements of his own. Sam starts off the comic as a veteran member of the Death Vigil, with the ability to beat people up with his magic shovel and pick as well as use them to summon a crew of Viking Draugr (Draugr are what zombies would be if they grew up with any ambition or drive) but he's unable to tap into the special abilities of his tools. Clara on the other hand figures out the abilities of her tool in a matter of weeks; a magic feather based on something she came up when a child. She's a little slower in picking on some other abilities she has due to her unique origin but we'll let that pass and I won't comment on them because those should remain a surprise. Sam and Clara play off of each other really well and have a really solid human relationship (in a platonic way). While Sam might be jealous of how fast Clara is picking things up, he doesn't angst or get ridiculous about it but handles it like an adult. This is a welcome change. Clara for her part doesn't dump all over Sam for not picking up things as fast as she can but respects him for his own talents and abilities. `

Mr. Sejic also avoids making this world to black or white by introducing us to several characters who are decidedly gray. For example Allistor and his daughter Mia, Allistor is a Necromancer but it's honestly hard to hold that against him. Recruited in medieval France by a cadre of Necromancers who had infiltrated the Catholic Church for his genius, he actually made contact with Bernie the Reaper because he wanted to find out her side of the story. I feel for this guy because if my pastor (who is also my father for a double whammy) came to me telling me that God wanted me to pick up these super powers to do His Work, well I would be inclined to believe him. Unfortunately Allistor and Bernie had a falling out and afterwards his daughter Mia grew terminally ill. So Allistor used the same rite that was used on Clara to bind a super Primordial to her and save her life. It also kinda turned her into a monster who eats other Primordials... But you know... as long as she's not eating humans, it kinda feels like something heavily drenched in Not My Problem! The relationship between the vigil and Allistor and Mia is complicated, some of them are friends and some of them are not. It interjects a human element to the conflict showing that this isn't a bunch of crazy maniacs fighting a bunch of Immortal Death Knights but a conflict driven by people with human desires using forces that they really, really, shouldn't use.  Interestingly enough the villains of our piece have a lot in common with Allistor, to the point where they almost feel like a twisted reflection of his story and as kind of a signpost of how things could have gone terribly wrong for him and his daughter.  I won’t go into details because… Well spoilers.   Mr. Sejic does well in making his villains human, mainly by keeping the utterly monstrous necromancers to the background and giving us people with understandable motives and grudges.

I also enjoy Mr. Sejic's art style, which uses a lot of muted colors without being drab or overly dark. His facial expressions are a real strong point as well and he's better then a lot of comic book artist at conveying emotion without being utterly ridiculous about it. That said, he tends to give away a bit too much, there's a lot of things that the characters haven't figured that even a very unalert reader is going to be able to figure out real fast. I would encourage Mr. Sejic to be willing to give out less hints in the future for secrets he doesn't want to reveal until future storylines. Still, it's a fun story with good art and likable characters (which was needed) so I am giving Death Vigil Volume I an -A

Next week, we're going grave robbing! Join us for Mark Smylie's the Barrow!

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