Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: Valentine the Comic

As a fan of fantasy comics, literature and movies, I've found myself rather under served as of late. Recently, to alleviate this, I decided to browse the comixology online store to see what kind of fantasy comics were available. Amongst them was Valentine, by Alex de Campi and Christine Larsen, which I downloaded in its entirety. Thank no-god I did.

There were two things I noticed right away about this creator owned series. Firstly, it was completely free, which is really unusual for the comixology store. Aside from Mark Waid's The Unknown (which I strongly recommend) I haven't found any series that offers than the first issue, or a "preview" of the first issue for free. Not only are all 10 issues/episodes free, but they're Creative Commons licensed, meaning it can be republished in its entirety assuming that proper credit is given. The second thing I noticed was that it was available in several different languages, including Japanese, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Gaelic, and appropriately, French and Russian. There are comics in that store originally published in languages aside from English that are not available in their original language (I'm looking at you, Hetalia:Axis Powers) so offering this for free in so many languages is a very welcome sight indeed.

The story (which I'm doing my best not to spoil in any way) follows a young named Valentine, a Breton soldier fighting for France in 1812. After Napoleon's rather disastrous campaign where a force of half a million men was whittled down to 50,000, Valentine meets a man named Roland, from whom he obtains a magical sword that only he can use, which can open portals to other dimensions, amongst other things. From there, he becomes embroiled in a centuries-old conflict between two magical races: the savage, red-eyed Tenebrae led by a man named Belphegor, and Roland's as-of-yet unnamed people, who may not be quite as noble as they seem. Valentine is injured by some Tenebrae posing as Cossacks, and one of Roland's people, Nimue, uses some of her magic to save Valentine's life. Later, Nimue finds herself in a bit of trouble. It's up to Valentine to save her. That is literally all I can give away without giving away any of the many twists.

This is a series that was created for e-readers, mobile devices and tablets. I am aware of a debate that is currently ongoing regarding how well suited comics are to this particular format, and this is easily the strongest argument in favour of digital comics I've seen. With a single exception in issue/episode 10, it's all in Landscape (that is, you need to keep your device turned on its side) which is a much better use of the device than the alternative, in my opinion, and reduces the irritation of having to constantly flip the device around to properly see the action. The panels always fill the screen fully, unlike most comics for iPhone/iPad/iPod/Android/etc. which cut off parts of a panel, or show bits of other panels every screen. The shifts in panels also fully utilize the format. Text boxes appear after you get a chance to fully appreciate the artwork, word balloons change while the artwork remains the same (emphasizing the deadpan delivery of particular lines), and magical effects like Valentine's sword's glow appear suddenly, to more properly emphasize the his surprise at this. The use of colour is amongst the most ingenious I've seen in any comic. When on earth, it's primarily greyscale or muted, with a handful of exceptions, like the eyes of characters with some magical ability and the magic sword. However, when the story moves to the Dawn Country (Roland's homeland), everything is vividly and beautifully coloured, emphasizing the magic and wonder of the place. Tim Burning really outdid himself there.

The art is perfect for the story, and I found myself strongly sympathizing with Valentine. The pulpy feel of the story appealed greatly to me, yet the writing showed more nuance than most two-fisted adventure stories, and the violence is not graphic enough to turn off the squeamish. Every issue leaves you chomping at the bit wanting to find out what happens next, and with a clear end planned, this won't be one of those series that goes on past its best-used-by date (I'm looking at you, Marvel and DC). The closest thing to a real negative I found was that, in issue 7, the way the "pages" turned was right to left (though it still read left to right). It was confusing for a minute, since one has to tap or drag the page a specific way to make it "turn" on an iDevice, but ultimately it wasn't a problem. In fact, it added to the feel of that section of the work, since that's when Valentine ends up in the Dawn Country, where things work differently than they do in our reality. It ended up being yet another brilliant example of the potential of digital comics.

This is easily the best comic I've read in a long time, and I read a lot of good comics (Chew, the Walking Dead, Demon Knights, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, and classic Savage Sword of Conan are all on my current reading list). 10 out of 10. Get this now, either from comixology, Robot Comics or on the Kindle (note: the Kindle only goes to issue 8 out of the currently published 10, and does come with a pricetag, reasonable though it may be). A print edition of the first 8 chapters, with an additional story, will be published by Image Comics later this year, and Alex told me herself on both Twitter and Facebook that new episodes should return in Autumn or shortly thereafter, after a Kickstarter campaign. The backup story will be drawn by Cassandra James and the all new covers will be done by Steve Belledin. Be sure to watch for it, and expect a review of the backup story the moment I get it.

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