By Stjepan Sejic and Ron Marz
Mr. Sejic is becoming one of the most featured people on this review series, he is a Croatian comic book artist and writer and I've covered him in both my second Rat Queens review (Oct 2015) and in Death Vigil (Oct 2016). I've really enjoyed his work and I really enjoy fantasy so picking up a fantasy comic by him wasn't a hard choice. Ravine is an epic fantasy comic written by Mr. Sejic and Ron Marz (yes, I'll get to him) published in 2013 by Top Cow, which I discussed in the Death Vigil review so I'm not going to retread that ground. Instead let's talk about Mr. Marz.
Ron Marz has been writing comics since at least 1991, which means his work is measured in decades. He's worked for Marvel, DC, Darkhorse, Image (and through Image, Top Cow), and Valiant; and was a writer for several Crossgen comics (Oh Crossgen, you keep coming up and I keep pushing back when I talk about your story). Ron Marz is likely best known for his work in DC however, especially his work on Green Lateran, specifically a story known as Emerald Twilight. That's the story line where Hal Jordan went insane and became a mass murderer and Kyle Rayner became a green lantern; and for awhile at least the only Green Latern. How you feel about that is going to come down to how you feel about Kyle. For the record I like Kyle (at least more than Hal) but I didn't care for turning the Green Lantern Corps into the Green Lantern dude. The argument was that being part of a Corps meant he wasn't special, my response to that is taking away the Corps means he's pretty much just like all the other heroes on Earth. So instead why not embrace the entire sci-fi magic insanity part of it? I should stop here since this isn't a GL review.
Ravine is an epic fantasy set in a world that has been deeply shaped by the relationship between dragons and men. Magic is a gift from dragons to mankind, to aide in their survival dragons changed men into different races as they confronted new magical threats. It's hinted at here that dragons have come into the world of mortals from a different world and brought baggage with them. Most of that information comes from a short story and appendix in the back of the comic, however none of that is really necessary to understand the story itself so I'm not going to ding the comic for it. I will however take points off for how one of the main characters is introduced and honestly for the prologue. Ravine opens up with a massive battle full of people we don't know anything about fighting for reasons that... I honestly find myself indifferent to. It's told to us in narration boxes while splashing the page full of truly beautiful battle art but without any investment into it, I'm left cold. The prologue is meant to introduce us to our villains but honestly I'm left confused as to their motivations and desires. This isn't a bad sequence though, it just lacks context to make it meaningful in any way. If it had been moved to later in the series after the heroes had run into the villains and were trying to learn about them then it would have been a good reveal I think. I can't say the same for our introduction to one of our main characters Stein, where we met him surrounded by a band of adventurers... As he's leaving to go follow a migrating... flock of dragons? Flight of dragons? What do you call a group of dragons anyways? He's following them to some semi-mythical gathering place so he can loot a bunch of dragon scales and sell them off to retire filthy rich. Of course we have one of the party members muttering about how Stein is bitter behind his smile and carries a burden beyond his tender years... All things we've seen packed into everything from bad fan fiction to worse movies. Don't tell he's bitter behind a laughing facade, or that he carries burdens beyond that of mortal men... show me! It's just pretentious and eye rolling to have some character I never see again pontificating about it as the main character wakes away to be edgy.
As you might guess, I don't like Stein. A big deal is made of him but he doesn't do much besides run around at the edges of what looks to me as the real plot. Frankly if I had been the editor I would have told Mr. Sejic not to waste the comic space but use it to greater effect on the things revealed to us with the other main character's story, that being the dragon riding redhead Lynn. Lynn's personal story isn't anything all that special. She's the heir of a nation training in secret to be a dragon rider because the military strength that dragon riders bring is important enough that even heir's to the throne get risked in the rather dangerous training. Honestly I would have thought that if this is a feudal system that dragon riders would be the lords, them or mages. I've never been able to figure out feudal systems where the people with the most military strength don't have elite social positions, especially those modeled off of the western feudal systems. Those were founded on the idea if that if you had a lot of military strength, you got to be a social and economic elite too. Here we learn that Lynn is dreading losing her freedom to the throne (fantasy protagonist plot #3 I believe) but will have to assume the throne because (say it with me) her parents are dead!
Additionally she and her nation are being sucked into a conflict between the feudal lords and the local church. The Church of Damanal worships an imprisoned god, trapped below a mountain. The leader of the church, the hero of the last epic war has been subverting feudal lords and soldier into following him instead of their kings. This of course begs the question, who imprisons a god and why would you imprison a god? Any answer that I can come up with leaves me asking why worshiping this guy is a good idea. That doesn't make people worshipping the imprisoned god unrealistic mind you, just likely not a good idea. Honestly this conflict is the part I like most about the book besides Lynn hanging out with her military friends, worrying about how adulthood is going to go. Lynn of course complicates everything by deciding during her knighting ceremony to make a go for a Grimlas: super magic weapons with spirits living in them. Of course drawing one means you lose all title and are sentenced to wander about doing whatever you please. This is backed up by divine mandate so I don't question it has much but I am lukewarm on the super magic weapon bit, especially since on that front all we get in this story is set up for what they might be able to do.
Ravine is densely packed and takes a bit of reading to unwind. There's good ideas here and some interesting characters but the execution is spotty and there are also not-so-good ideas and characters. Frankly Mr. Sejic ends up trying to do too much here and the story suffers for it. This was written before Death Vigil (2 years before) and I can clearly see the lessons he learned in focus and pacing. Frankly I would advise a rewrite, this is reads a lot like a 1st draft of what might become a great epic fantasy but is in need of a lot of work. While I found some interesting stuff in here I find myself having to give Ravine by Stjepan Sejic a C-. If you want to see what he's really capable of, go read Death Vigil.
This review Edited by Dr. Ben Allen.