Following on from my adventures at Glasgow’s Comic-Con, which you can read about here, I promised four comic-book/graphic novel reviews. Here’s the second of them.
Controversial as it is Kickstarter has definitely opened the door to a variety of projects that may never have gotten to exist using traditional methods. Case in point comes a Dieselpunk comic series named Skies of Fire, the first two issues of which I snapped up at Glasgow’s Comic-Con.
Skies of Fire is absolutely gorgeous to look at, first and foremost, every page filled with beautiful images brought to life by Pablo Peppino and colored by Bryan Valenza. The comic’s creators Vincenzo Ferriero and Ray Chou originally envisioned Skies of Fire as an epic movie when they were back in college, the intention being that if they somehow could ever make it they would shoot the movie on 35mm cameras for that true movie feel. Comics may be an entirely different medium but the projects original inception as a film can be felt throughout the pages as Pablo Peppino brings a strong cinematic style to the art, framing scenes beatifully to give the reader as much information as possible while building the world as a real place. The style and the coloring give the comic an almost water-color feeling. The end result is incredibly pleasing to the eye. Just check out the images in this review for proof, all of which, it should be noted, were taken using a camera rather than direct scans.
All the lovely art in the world isn’t going to save a crap comic, though. Thankfully Skies of Fire’s first two issues are incredibly promising. It all begins with the world itself; Skies of Fire takes place within the fictional Aquilan Empire, which can be somewhat compared to Britain post-World War I. Instead of a navy full of warships, though, the Aquilan Empire builds and maintains a huge fleet of airships, massive zeppelins that are used for transport, hauling cargo and military operations. The Blue Coats are the defenders of the realm, and their ships come in a variety of sizes, packing cannons and planes for dogfighting. It’s a somewhat Steampunk vibe, and the setup allows for some awesome action scenes that include devastating broadsides, aerial dogfights and boarding parties. At the centre of the Empire lies The Expanse, a monstrous, never-ending storm that the Royal Fleet tries to avoid at all costs. Raiders, however, are willing to risk it and thus have claimed the Expanse as their own, using it to commit piracy.
Frankly I was onboard from the first page. I’ve always loved World War 1 and World War 2 warships, there’s just something so powerful and menacing about them. Take warships, make them fly and whack ’em in such a wonderfully realised world as Skies of Fire’s and you’ve got my attention. And it does feel well realised, which is quite impressive given that there’s only two issues currently. Most of that comes down to the level of detail within the art which makes the Aquilan Empire seem like something that actually exists.
The first two issues largely set up what’s going to be the primary storyline, so fair warning I’m going to run through the plot of both issues so so that you can get a firm idea of what Skies of Fire is shaping up to be.
It opens with the town of Port Prince being heavily assaulted by raiders with a powerful ship. A small fleet of Blue Coats arrives to fend off the assault of Delmonte, the infamous raider, but Delmonte makes his escape into the Expanse before his fleet of pirates can be destroyed. Unwilling to follow their target into the Expanse the Royal Fleet gives up the chase.
Back at the Capital of Monterey, second in command of the small Blue Coat fleet Captain Pierce is called to defend her actions as she opted to break formation in order to chase the pirates, going against the direct orders of the admiral. Managing to explain her decision Captain Pierce pushes the advantage, asking His Majesty King Percival for permission to pursue Delmonte into the Expanse in order to finally put an end to his operations. Persuaded by her works King Percival agrees. To help her succeed, however, Captain Pierce will require the help of a former raider by the name of Billy, a crew composed of both Blue Coats and raiders, and a small ship by the name of Zephyr. The stage is set for the series, then; Pierce and her crew will journey through the Expanse to stop Delmonte. Doubtless we’ll get to spend time outside of the never-ending storm, though, as the world is a fascinating one.
There’s honestly not a lot of negatives to talk about here. The writing is solid throughout both issues, although I’m not entirely sold on those weird looking speech balloons, and the pacing is great. We get some nice opening action to kick off the very first issue, while the second sets up some important backstory and gives us some engaging character interaction. I also appreciate the bonus material presented at the end of each issue, such as a Royal Fleet report, a news paper clipping and even some religious text. Again, it all helps fill the world in and make it much more believable.
If I had to weigh in with a complaint I’d probably say that right now Captain Pierce doesn’t have much personality about her. However, it’s a petty complaint given that we’re only two issues in and the crew of the Zephyr hasn’t even been introduced yet. As of this moment Pierce is confident and brash, so that’s a good enough start. I’m looking forward to seeing how she and Billy, the ex-raider she’s taking with her, will co-exist and what the crew will be like. That’ll be the key to the series, I think. If they can nail the dynamic between the crew then Skies of Fire could be one of the greatest independent comics produced to date. If they can’t it’ll still be pretty damn good.
Honestly at this point I’m pretty much sold on Skies of Fire and am awaiting the third issue with relish. Out of the for books I picked up at Comic-Con to review this is the one I hold up as being the outright best. On a more personal level I’m rooting for Saltire just because I’m Scottish, but Skies of Fire is the complete package with good writing, amazing art, a brilliant original world and a good story premise. If they can wrap this up with a strong dynamic between the crew of the Zephyr then it’ll be a homerun. Absolutely worth reading.