Jack of Fables: Jack of Hearts


By Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins, Steve Leialoha & Andrew Pepoy (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-628-3

In case you didn’t know, Fables are refugee fairytale, storybook and legendary characters who (which?) fled to our mundane Earth from their various mythic realms to escape a mysterious and unbeatable Adversary. Disguising their true natures from humanity they created enclaves where their immortality, magic and sheer strangeness (all the talking animals are sequestered on a remote farm in upstate New York) would not threaten the life of uneasy luxury they built for themselves. Many of these immortals wander the human world, but always under injunction never to draw any attention.

In Fables: Homelands the utterly self-absorbed and absolutely amoral Jack of the Tales (everyman hero of Beanstalk, Giant-killer, Be Nimble fame) did just that by stealing Fabletown funds and becoming a movie producer, creating the three most popular fantasy films of all time, based on (his version) of his life, consequently drawing physical power from the billions who inadvertently “believed” in him – and coining vast amounts of filthy lucre in the process.

A key tenet of the series is that the more “mundies” (that’s mundane humans like you and me… well, me anyway) who think about a fable character, the stronger that character becomes. Books TV, songs, all feed their vitality. In the first volume of his eponymous irreverent series Jack was brought low by the publicity-shy Fables Police: banished from Hollywood and ordered to disappear, with only a suitcase full of cash to tide him over.

He was captured and escaped from a particularly horrific fate – metaphysical neutering by The Golden Bough, a clandestine organisation that had been “vanishing” Fables for centuries – and is now on the run from those selfsame forces (in the attractive shape of the Page Sisters, dedicated hunters of everything Fabulous and Uncanny) after instigating a mass-break-out of forgotten and abridged Fables…

This second volume (collecting issues #6-11 of the Vertigo comicbook) opens with ‘Jack Frost’ illustrated by Steve Leialoha, as the legendary blowhard links up with a few other escapees in snow-bound Wyoming, and “entertains” everyone with the story of how he once knocked-up Lumi, the Snow Queen, after which he then helpfully “borrowed” her role in the supernatural cosmology and almost destroyed the cycle of Seasons before the Queen’s sisters Summer Spring and Autumn brought him to book…

The sharp eyed might notice that although the two chapters smoothly follow one another the attendant reproduced covers indicate that the concluding part was actually #11, not #7. Yes. Correct. You’re not wrong. Chalk it up to the magical drama of deadlines and move on.

‘Viva Las Vegas’ illustrated by Tony Akins and Andrew Pepoy, opens in that legendary Sin City with Jack waking up hung over and married to a cutie who is also the billionaire heiress who will one day inherit much of that aforementioned modern Gomorrah. But things aren’t as great as they seem. For starters Jack has somehow been reunited with fellow escapee Gary, the engagingly peculiar but trouble-attracting Pathetic Fallacy. For another, nobody likes an obvious gigolo gold-digger and everybody is trying to kill him. Most importantly though, the disgustingly bloodthirsty Fable Lady Luck already secretly controls Vegas and doesn’t want someone like Jack around just when her lost magic horseshoe has finally, serendipitously returned to the city after being missing for decades…

Saucy, self-referential, darkly, mordantly funny, this series is a deliciously whimsical fairytale for adults concocted with much more broad, adult, cynical humour and sex than your average comicbook – so mothers and matrons be warned! This enchanting series is a wonderful view of how the world should be and every volume should be compulsory reading for jaded fantasists everywhere.

© 2007 Bill Willingham and DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Goddess


By Garth Ennis & Phil Winslade (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-327-3

Some stories are just a good, vicarious read and there’s no better description for this achingly funny, over the top eco-romp from the lord of outrageous shock comedy Garth Ennis. That it’s beautifully illustrated by master of the meticulous Phil Winslade is a tremendous plus of course…

London Zoo keeper Rosie Nolan went for a walk in the Highlands. As she was revelling in the wonders of nature something odd happened: she was gripped by an eerie emerald power and accidentally split Scotland and England apart…

At that moment ineffectual Jeff (our narrator) was cocking up his latest relationship and ecological psychopath Mudhawk was slaughtering some more people who didn’t share his passion for animal rights, but someone who did notice Rosie’s little gaffe was paranoid narcisscist  Harry Hooks, a CIA spook who had been hunting for telekinetic people to turn into US weapons for decades. He immediately headed for England where a concatenation of circumstances brought Jeff, Mudhawk – and his bellicose ex Samantha Flint – to Rosie’s doorstep just as the Yank arrived…

Mad as a bag of badgers, Hooks tried to abduct Rosie, leading to the deaths of five American agents, and when the local beat copper arrived Hooks shot him. This rash act brought cheerful old Desk Constable George Dixon into the mix. Dixon was the kind of rozzer who always got his man – and then assiduously disposed of the body before anybody could register a complaint. An old fashioned sort, he didn’t much like cop-killers, so with the sadistic Bovver Bruvvers in tow Dixon went after the kill-crazy Hooks, incidentally racking up a body-count of his own that a middle-eastern dictator would be proud of…

In a voyage that traverses the entire globe Rosie’s powers expand exponentially and as the frantic chases of all the authority figures rapidly converge on her the attendant carnage escalates. With her companions in tow she uncovers the incredible secret of her gift in a gloriously trenchant and darkly sardonic satire on society, like a gore-splattered “Carry-On” film with no limits and not even a modicum of good taste.

Fast, furious, funny and wickedly whimsical, this is classic over-the-top Ennis fare, which was purportedly postponed during its conversion from eight issue miniseries to trade paperback compilation because the terrorist themes were deemed too raw after the September 11th attacks. As one of the most impressive scenes here concerns crashing an airliner, I think I can see their point. Nevertheless, as the series premiered six years before the towers fell, and it’s been a long while since, perhaps the time is right to revisit this incredible fantasy tale for consenting, contrary adults…

© 1995, 1996, 2002 Garth Ennis and Phil Winslade. All Rights Reserved.

Michael Moorcock’s The Swords of Heaven, The Flowers of Hell – UK Edition


By Howard V. Chaykin & Michael Moorcock (Star Books)
ISBN: 0-35230681-5

Presented as a Heavy Metal Presents… production this slim and scintillating fantasy thriller was one of the most successful early graphic novels, but has since slipped into seeming obscurity. Created Marvel-style (plot/art and then script) it teamed two of the medium’s most outspoken and popular creators on a project that still has a phenomenal amount of punch.

Michael Moorcock began his career as a comics writer and editor at age 15, on such strips as Tarzan, Dogfight Dixon, Jet Ace Logan, Captain Condor, Olac the Gladiator and many, many other British stalwarts before making the jump to prose fiction, where he single-handedly revitalised the genre with the creation of Elric and the high-concept of the Eternal Champion.

This very adult fantasy thriller is a part of that extended cycle of sagas (and if you’re a fan this tale immediately follows the novels The Eternal Champion and Phoenix in Obsidian) but if it’s all new to you everything you need to enjoy the epic is précised within the tale itself.

Urlik Skarsol, known as John Daker, is an aspect of the tragic fate-tossed Eternal Champion. Unlike most he is always aware of his true nature so when he incarnates on a new world he already knows it is another place of conflict and jeopardy.

Here he is Lord Clen of Clen Gar, a knight of the Dream Marches and wielder of a terrible soul-drinking black sword. His land is a buffer zone between the acid-scorched wastes of Hell and the lush highlands of Heaven, and for centuries his people have guarded the decadent body-warping elite above them from the desperate wild-men of the burned wildernesses.

A final confrontation is drawing inevitably closer, and death is in the air, but Clen holds one final awesome secret. The floating acid-spewing beasts known as Angels are not what they seem and their final fate will determine whether this world thrives or dies in blood and flame…

This is a classic romp from two masters of the form, painted with all verve and dash of Chaykin in his prime, and a treat fantasists and followers of exotic, erotic fantasy will simply adore.

© 1979 Howard V. Chaykin & Michael Moorcock.  All Rights Reserved.

Voyages – Adventures in Fantasy


By Alex Toth, Rick Geary, Charles Vess, Trina Robbins & others (Nautilus Dreams)
ISBN: 0-913161-00-4

For comics purists and especially fans of comic art few books can match the impact and content of this delightful one-off from the early 1980s. I know nothing about its genesis or editor Howard Feltman, but at the dawn of creator owned-publishing, he managed to compile a truly staggering pool of talent for a (regrettably) single engagement that still resonates with power and charm today.

Behind the Frank Brunner cover and Terry Austin frontispiece, these crisp black and white pages contain firstly two incredible tales of Alex Toth’s Bravo For Adventure; an origin and a truly magnificent, surreal design masterpiece, wherein a blow to the head sends the dashing aviator to the furthest reaches of reality.

Toth was the undisputed god of minimalist line and his breathtaking mastery of dark and light is given full rein in these incomparable yarns. Hard on his heels is ‘Murder in the Garage’, an impressive early crime confession from Rick Geary, whose Treasury of Victorian Murder and Treasury of XXth Century Murder graphic procedurals are a constant source of delight to readers of true crime tales and cartoon aficionados everywhere.

Stardust star Charles Vess follows with the first of two brief vignettes, ‘Sugar in the Morning’ and Howard Chaykin provided an eerie psycho-thriller entitled ‘No Rest for the Weary…’ painted in glorious, psychedelic colour in a special glossy insert, after which Toren Smith and Lela Dowling contributed a whimsical and decidedly different ‘Cheshire Cat’ tale.

Barb Hawkins Karl interviewed P. Craig Russell with a liberal sprinkling of beautiful pencil studies and a stirring fantasy illustration in pen and ink, Trina Robbins brilliantly pastiched the Maltese Falcon in ‘Queenie Hart and the Andromedan Grzblch’ and John Jay Muth traded his signature watercolours for tone and pencil in the pensive picture poem ‘The Ghost’.

This enchanting collection concludes with Vess’ quirky ‘Blimp Tales’ and a Dowling unicorn endpiece. The tremendous outpouring of superlative art and stories that came from the rise of independent publishers in the 1980s seldom reached the qualitative peak of Voyages and this book is still readily available at incredibly modest prices. No true art lover or collector can afford to be without it.

All art and stories © 1983 the respective creators/copyright holders. All Rights Reserved.

Elric at the End of Time


By Michael Moorcock, illustrated by Rodney Matthews (Paper Tiger)
ISBN: 1-85028 032-0

He doesn’t demonstrate it often enough but Michael Moorcock has a wicked, absurdist sense of humour. One occasion of this is marvelously captured and reinterpreted in this deliciously odd collaboration with fantasy illustrator and heavy metal/prog-rock art icon Rodney Matthews. The prose book this tale is taken from collects short stories of the doom-drenched last-Emperor of a dead race, with the titles tale deviating ever so slightly from the breast-beating norm…

Elric is a tragic incarnation of the Eternal Champion, reincarnated in every time, place and alternate dimension. His life is blood and tragedy, exacerbated by his dependence on a soul-drinking black sword and his sworn allegiance to the chimerical Lords of Chaos. But what happens when he is lost in a place where time has ended?

Misplaced from his proper situation he finds himself in the indulgent, entropic, oh-so-bored company of the Dancers at the End of Time where an effete and omnipotent group of beings are desperately trying to keep themselves amused until the inevitable finally happens.

Elric believes he’s been shanghaied to the realms of ultimate chaos – a belief his hosts are delighted to encourage – and only the duty-bound Una Persson, Top Agent of Time Central, cares about returning the lost Melnibonéan to his point of origin before all reality unravels…

This novella is a mock heroic, surreal delight, that revels in lancing its own pretensions, expanded to fill this lush 120 page album by the incredible, unique art work of Matthews who eschews sequential narrative for a panoramic series of (21) lavishly painted plates, spreads and vignettes and a further 11 illustrations ranging from cameos to spreads in eerie black and white.

Controversial among fans who either love or hate it, this is still a terrific read, outré and startling, and one that fantasy and illustration fans should see. Well worth the effort needed to track it down.
© 1987 Dragon’s World Ltd. Text © 1981 Michael Moorcock. Illustrations © 1981 Rodney Matthews. All Rights Reserved.

The Squirrel Machine


By Hans Rickheit (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN:  978-1-60699-301-9

¡Perfect Present Alert!  For him or her – if they’re “Of Age”

Hans Rickheit was born in 1973 and has been producing skilfully crafted art in many different arenas since the early 1990s, beginning with self-published mini-comics and graduating to full-sized, full-length epics as well as dabbling in film, music, gallery works and even performance art. A Xeric award beneficiary, he came to broader attention in 2001 with the controversial graphic novel Chloe, and has since spread himself wide contributing to numerous anthologies and periodicals.

He has been called obscurantist, and indeed in all his beautifully rendered and realised concoctions meaning is layered and open to wide interpretation. His preferred oeuvre is the imagery and milieu of Victorian/Edwardian Americana which provided such rich fantasist pickings for Poe, Lovecraft and Derleth, and his meticulously clear line is a perfect counterpoint to the cloud of mystery and cosmic confusion engendered by the protagonists of his latest book The Squirrel Machine.

The brothers Edmund and William Torpor live in a secluded 19th century New England town but have never been part of the community. Raised alone by their artist mother they are quite different from other kids, and Edmund especially is obsessed with arcane engineering and assembling musical instruments from utterly inappropriate components.  Fantastic dream-like journeys and progressions mark their isolated existence, which is far more in tune with a greater metaphysical cosmos, but as puberty gradually moves them to an awareness of base human sexuality they find the outside world impacting theirs in ways that can only end in tragedy and horror…

Moreover, just where did the plans for the Squirrel Machine come from…?

Visually reminiscent of the works of Rick Geary, this is also a uniquely surreal and mannered design, a highly charged and subtly disturbing delusion that will chill and upset and possibly even outrage many readers but it is also compelling, seductive and hard to forget. As long as you’re an adult and braced for the unexpected, expect this to be one of the best books you’ll read this decade.

© 2009 Fantagraphics Books. Contents © 2009 Hans Rickheit. All Rights Reserved.

Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné: The Weird of the White Wolf


Adapted by Roy Thomas, Michael T. Gilbert, P. Craig Russell, George Freeman & various (First Publishing)
ISBN: 0-915419-87-4

Elric is a landmark of the Sword and Sorcery genre: the ruler of the pre-human civilisation of the Melnibonéans, a race of cruel, arrogant Sorcerers: Dissolute creatures in a slow, decadent decline after millennia of dominance over the Earth. An albino, he is physically weak and of a brooding philosophical temperament, caring for nothing save his beautiful cousin Cymoril, whom he killed whilst battling her loathsome usurping brother Prince Yrrkoon.

After Elric destroyed his own love and race he wandered the world a broken dissolute wreck. In a series of short prose stories, a number of which (The Dreaming City, While the Gods Laugh and The Singing Citadel) were included with a framing tale The Dream of Earl Aubec into the novel Elric: Weird of the White Wolf, the albino forged his tragic legend across the young planet.

This stellar graphic adaptation adapts not only the novel but also gatherers many of the disparate previous adaptations (partially or in full) in a logical chronological sequence, which originally saw the light of day as a five issue miniseries from the much missed innovators First Comics.

The Dream of Earl Aubec by Thomas, Gilbert and Freeman (with spectacular support from letterer Ken Bruzenak) sees the greatest champion of his world fight his way to the very edge of reality searching for glory and approval from his queen Eloarde of Klant. Where solid ground meets raw unformed chaos-stuff he finds a castle and is seduced by the incredible creature Myshella, the Dark Lady, who shows him visions of the future in the raw Chaos and particularly the travails of a tragic Emperor, Elric.

The first vision is an abridged version of Thomas and Russell’s ‘The Dreaming City’ taken from 1982 Marvel Graphic Novel which is followed by the pair’s superb adaptation of ‘While the Gods Laugh’ which first appeared in the fantasy anthology magazine Epic Illustrated (#14, 1984) wherein the doomed hero searches for the Dead God’s Book, a magical grimoire that promises to answer any wish or desire, picking up the first of many disposable paramours in Shaarilla of the Dancing Mist, as well as his truest friend and aide, Moonglum.

Interspersed with the continuing drama of Aubec and Myshella the collection then moves into an all-new interpretation of ‘The Singing Citadel’ with Thomas and Gilbert co- adapting the saga for the hugely underrated George Freeman to illustrate and colour. Elric and Moonglum take ship and are attacked by the pirates of Pan Tang, before being drawn into the scheme of Queen Yishana who needs a better magician than her own lover Theleb K’aarna to investigate an incursion of melodic chaos into her kingdom.

The invader turns out to be the malevolent Jester of the Lords of Chaos, intent on establishing his own domain without the interference of his superiors…

This is a phenomenal tale of heroism and insanity and the art and colour here fully capture the drama and madness of the original. Gilbert and Freeman are every bit the imaginative, illustrative equals of the magnificent Russell and this book is one of the most impressive graphic fantasies ever produced, and desperately in need of re-release.

Michael Moorcock’s irresistible blend of brooding Faustian tragedy and all-out action is never better displayed than in his stories of Elric, and Roy Thomas’ adaptations were a high watermark in the annals of illustrated fantasy. Every home and castle should have one…

© 1990 First Comics, Inc. and Star*Reach Productions. Adapted from the original stories by Michael Moorcock, © 1967, 1970, 1977. All Rights Reserved.

Madame Xanadu volume 1: Disenchanted


By Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley & Richard Friend (Vertigo)
ISBN13:  978-1-84856-288-2

Matt Wagner further blurs the boundaries between “straight” DC comics and the mature, independent Vertigo imprint – which actually drives continuity mavens raving bonkers – with this superbly fetching and compulsive yarn that manages the cunning legerdemain of telling a stand-alone tale for newcomers which also acts a clever piece of historical in-filling for readers steeped in the arcane lore of the magical aspects of DC universe.

Collecting the first ten issues of the lovely, thoughtful monthly comic, Disenchanted finally provides an origin for one of the most mysterious characters in the company’s pantheon, and makes her a crucial lynchpin in the development of a number of the company’s biggest stars.

Madame Xanadu debuted in Doorway to Nightmare, one of the last of DC’s 1970’s mystery stable (February 1978) and a rare deviation from the standard anthology format. She was a tarot reader who became peripherally involved in supernatural adventures of her clients, and was designed by Michael William Kaluta and Joe Orlando. The title ended after only five issues although four further tales appeared in The Unexpected, and one final solo adventure was released as DC’s second “Direct Sales only” title (in the early 1980s comics shops had become common enough that they could support titles that simply couldn’t find an audience on the sale-or-return newsstands).

After lurking in the musty and magical corners of the DCU for decades she finally got another shot at the limelight and to be honest it’s been worth the wait.

In the final days of Camelot the fairy Nimue, mistress of the Sacred Grove and sister to the Lady of the Lake and haughty Morgana, is disturbed by the growing chaos in the land. The puissant clairvoyant is unexpectedly visited by a stranger who urges her to act on her visions but she is proud and reluctant, and drives him away.

Meanwhile her lover Merlin is making dire preparations for inevitable battle and lets his loving mask slip. His dalliance with her is clearly only a pretence to obtain her secrets of immortality…

As Camelot falls and the land burns Merlin summons a demon from Hell to protect him and leaves it loose after the castle falls.  The stranger returns and urges Nimue to beware Merlin’s intentions, but although she is wary of the wizard she will not believe him capable of harming her.

She learns otherwise almost too late, binding Merlin in a magical snare, but the wizard’s revenge is terrible as with his last vestige of power he destroys her enchanted nature: with her potions she will still know magic but never again be magical…

Hundreds of years later she is seer for mighty Kublai Khan when the stranger appears again, guide to the expedition bringing Marco Polo to his heady destiny. Once again the stranger’s warnings are unwelcome but true and her perfect life and innocent friends suffer because she will not listen. She departs aware that the stranger believes he serves a purpose more important than innocent lives but when she confronts him he vanishes, as always, like a phantom…

In France she advises Marie Antoinette, both before and after she is dragged to the Bastille, and begs the ubiquitous stranger to save the tragic queen to no avail. When she finally returns to England she hunts Jack the Ripper, unable to fathom how the stranger can believe any cause more important than stopping this monster, and the story ends in 1930s New York in the fleeting moments before Supermen burst onto the world stage, finally discovering the strangers mission, and learning how her ancient antics shaped it…

Despite a huge coterie of magical guest-stars from Zatarra to Death of the Endless and the close tires to key moments of DC history, this is a delightful, glorious, romantic, scary stand-alone tragedy that any older fantasy fan and newcomer to comics could easily read… and really should.

© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Requiem Vampire Knight Tome 2: Dracula and The Vampires Ball


By Pat Mills & Ledroit (Panini Books UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-438-6

The second double compilation of Pat Mills and Olivier Ledroit’s darkly spectacular masterpiece of nihilistic anti-heroism intensifies the decadent horrors with the next two translated volumes that created such a storm when first released in France. Dracula and The Vampire Ball resumes the tale of Heinrich Augsburg, a Nazi soldier doomed to unlive his life as a vampire warrior in a macabre inverse world of evil, which began in Requiem Vampire Knight Tome 1: Resurrection and Danse Macabre.

Resurrection is a brooding, blood-drenched world of eternal strife and warfare: a grim, fantastic mirror of Earth with the seas and land-masses reversed, where time runs backwards, populated by all the worst sinners of Earth reincarnated as monsters of myth – a realm where the ranked dead expiate or exacerbate the sins of their former lives.

This tome further explores the deeds that brought Heinrich (now called Requiem) to the very apex of the hell-world’s hierarchy as a full knight at the court of Dracula, trapped in a spiral of bloodletting, debauchery and intrigue. His position is not secure. Not only has he earned the enmity of the treacherous faction of elite Nosferatu led by Lady Claudia Demona, Lord Mortis and Baron Samedi, but it appears that he may be a returned soul…

Long before Augsberg died on a frozen battlefield, killed by a Russian he was trying to rape, the Templar Heinrich Barbarossa had committed such atrocities in the name of Christianity that he was guaranteed a place in Dracula’s inner circle when he inevitably reached Resurrection. But soon this new Vampire Knight Thurim committed an unpardonable crime and was excised from the court and Resurrection itself.

But now Requiem, already plagued by memories of his doomed affair with the Jewess Rebecca, is the subject of dangerous talk. Far too many vampires are remarking how similar to the disgraced Thurim the newcomer seems…

And what’s worse for him is that as the interminable battles (incredibly realised by the epic mastery of Ledroit) with such foes as the Gods of Limbo, the arcane order of Archaeologists, Lamias, Werewolves, Ghouls and others, Requiem discovers that Rebecca too is on Resurrection and the only way she can find peace is to “expire” the one responsible for her being there…

Blending decadent, opulent, Machiavellian dalliance with the wildest dreams – and grim, black wit – of a new De Sade, the tensions of the palace even outstrip the constant eye-popping action on myriad battlefields, so this book ends far too quickly on yet another cliffhanger when Rebecca is first captured by the Vampires only to escape with the still besotted and now wildly off-reservation Requiem. And their headlong flight has catapulted the doomed ex-lovers straight into the mouth of a cosmic dragon storm…

Supplemented by a gallery of the artist’s series paintings this astonishing, captivating work for the Goth within is an adult fantasy fan’s darkest dream come true. More please and soon…

© 2000, 2001, 2009 Nickel, Mills, Ledroit. All rights Reserved.

Requiem Vampire Knight Tome 1: Resurrection and Danse Macabre


By Pat Mills & Ledroit (Panini Books UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-437-9

As is so often the case Europe is the last and most beneficial arena for the arts and untrammelled creativity, and none more so than comics and sequential narrative. For some reason the Continent cherishes the best of the world’s past as well as nurturing the fresh and new, without too much concern for historical bugbears of political correctness, gaffes and contemporary censoriousness – which is why so many British and American strip creators produce their best work there.

Perhaps it’s simply because they revere not revile popular arts as much as classical ones….

Requiem Vampire Knight is an impressive example of self-publishing done right, and happily with commensurate rewards. For years writer Pat Mills wanted to break into the European market and in 2000 he did so by setting up Nickel Editions with publisher Jacques Collin (whose Zenda Editions produced some of the nicest looking albums of the 1980s) and artist Olivier Ledroit who illustrated the first four books of the incredibly popular Chroniques de la Lune Noire (Black Moon Chronicles) for Zenda before the series transferred to Dargaud. Mills and Ledroit were already old comrades having previously worked on the impressive Sha.

Mills is well known to readers of this blog (see for example Marshal Law: Fear and Loathing and his incontestable masterpiece Charley’s War) but perhaps Ledroit is not so familiar. After studying Applied Arts he began his career as an illustrator for games magazines and broke into Bandes Dessinee (that’s comics to thee and me) in 1989 with the aforementioned Black Moon Chronicles, written by François Marcela Froideval.

Specialising in fantasy art Ledroit drew Thomas Mosdi’s Xoco (1994) before teaming with Pat Mills on the acerbic, futurist thriller Sha, set in an ultra-religious fascistic USA (1996-1999). His lush painterly style was adapted to fairytales in 2003 with L’Univers Féerique d’Olivier Ledroit, and he is credited as one of the founding fathers of the darkly baroque fantasy sub-genre BD Gothique.

From a financially shaky start Requiem Vampire Knight quickly proved that quality will always find an audience, and Nickel swiftly expanded whilst continuing the excessively adult adventures of deceased warrior Heinrich Augsburg. The series is released as annual albums, and has been serialized in Germany as Requiem Der Vampirritter, and in Heavy Metal in America (beginning in Volume 27 #1, March 2003).

Now Panini have brought this evocative series to Britain in superb oversized, A4 format, double-editions presenting two albums per volume beginning with Resurrection and Danse Macabre.

Heinrich is a German officer killed on the Eastern Front in 1944. As he died all he could think of was his guilt over a doomed affair with the Jewess Rebecca whom he chose not to save when the Gestapo came for her…

He awakens confused, with few memories intact, on the incredible blood-drenched world of Resurrection: a grim, fantastic mirror of Earth with the seas and land-masses reversed, populated by all the monsters of myth and where time runs backwards. In this Hell of constant warfare the sins committed on Earth determine your rank and form. Since Heinrich has been reborn as a Vampire, top of the slaughterers’ heap, his Earthly transgressions must have been truly unforgivable…

Soon he is sent for training and orientation, joining the Vampires Court of Dracula, where all the worst monsters of history rule, becoming embroiled in the eternal warfare and perpetual intrigues. But as time passes and he gets younger, he remembers more of his Earthly life and realises that he has been on Resurrection before… Moreover he has earned the particular enmity of a faction of utterly decadent elite Nosferatu ruled by the sadistic Lady Claudia Demona, Lord Mortis and Baron Samedi…

For any fan of Mills’ work there nothing truly new here to be shocked by, but the liberating license to explore his favourite themes guided only by his own conscience and creative integrity has resulted in a complex, intensely compelling mystery of revenge and regret on the most uncompromising of worlds where there is literally no justice and no good deed ever goes unpunished. Blending cosmic warfare with cynically sardonic deadpan humour, wrapped in the ludicrously OTT trappings of sadomasochistic fetishism, this is a truly epic saga of Gothic hopelessness perfect for the post-punk, post-revisionary, lavishly anti-reductionist fantasy fan. But it’s probably best if you don’t show your gran or the vicar…

The art is utterly astonishing. In places delightfully reminiscent of Philippe Druillet’s startlingly visual and deceptively vast panel-scapes from such lost masterpieces as Yragael: Urm (and there’s another one to chuck on the “must review soon” pile) as well the paradoxically nihilistic energy of such decadent Michael Moorcock civilisations as Granbretan or Melniboné, Ledroit has captured a truly unique scenario with his vibrant palette . Never has the horrific outer darkness been so colourfully captured and the sheer scope of the numerous monsters and spectacular battles is utterly eye-popping.

A grim and witty dream, this is a fabulously realized adult fantasy of blood and thunder that is enthralling and captivating: (Im)Pure Graphic Wonderment!

© 2000, 2001, 2009 Nickel, Mills, Ledroit. All rights Reserved.