Title: Dark Swan: Storm Born #1
Author: Richelle Mead (original story), Grant Alter
Artist: Dave Hamann
Publisher: Sea Lion Books
I’ll get right to the point. This is a great story that delivers on more than one level, and from all appearances is an excellent adaptation of an internationally best selling line of books that fits perfectly in this medium. I confess, I have less curiosity toward her novels, but here, Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan: Storm Born, is where my interest lies.
If you consider Charmed and Alias to be quality entertainment, the story will suit you well. The main character, Eugenia Markham (aka Odile), is a somewhat self-portrayal by the writer, who you will find after investigating her press portfolio is a dead ringer for our saucy protagonist. Odile is a freelance shaman who has appointed herself as the guardian of our realm, pitting herself against the onslaught of Otherworldly baddies who want to either kill her or get down her pants. Truly. What is refreshing about this story is that it doesn’t insult the reader or pander to anyone’s predilections regarding outside commendation or absolution, i.e. for the most part, each panel says it like it is. This book has a finely crafted “situational awareness” of its own, which again, is refreshing and hopefully represents a trend with the quasi-independent publishers of today’s comic book mags. For instance, Odile finds herself sitting next to her homme du heure (named Kiyo) at a pub, whacking through a conventional bit of dialog that would not be out of place at a bar in South Boston:
Odie: …Give me honesty any time.
Kiyo: I think you’re funny. And smart, too. And I think you’d be fun to have sex with.
Odie: Wow. That’s a lot of honesty.
Kiyo: Should I f*ck off now?
Odie: No, not yet.
Now, if you hear the Twilight train approaching, it does somewhat pander to a certain unrequited and “sinful” pleasure-reading audience, but much in the way productions like True Blood and Underworld provide guilt-free entertainment, you can wear your “sassiness” on your sleeve while earning a lot of credibility in the storytelling department, much like the hopelessly underrated Dresden Files did in triple crown fashion (comics, television, and novel formats).
Dave Hamann does a good job with the artwork. Panels are logical with a comfortable line and contour which is exceeded by his knack for balance and composition; a rare achievement given the story places such urgency on characterization, while pandering to the action-minded audience of so many readers. There are several influences at work here: Terry (Strangers in Paradise, Birds of Prey) Moore with the highlighting of cast personalities, Jim (The Guild) Rugg with facial expressions, and even a hint of Takeshi (Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane) Mayazawa with body placement, dynamics, and environs; although there is very little manga-style to be felt in this title; more subdued, and with western sensibilities.
Honestly, I have seen core material like this handled with more mature spirit, so don’t expect the depth of Strangetown or Strangers in Paradise, which in this debut just misses the mark on character depth. But Dark Swan does make an earnest effort in reaching those heights, which is a real kudos to co-writer Grant Alter who strives for the legitimacy of the contemporary, independent “vibe” that is rife within these listed examples. Still, this is not a Disney story by any means, so if you are casting recommendations for younger readers, I would set the bar a little lower, as there is subdued nudity within and some profane artifacts as hinted above regarding language.
If you are looking to get your Love and Rockets fill, you should probably go elsewhere, but given the source material (fighting sídhe, death spirits, and the like) the approach and timbre of this issue is not unlike a Luna Brothers article, which would not be out of place being next to this on the shelf. Keep your eyes on this ongoing series; it will only get better and could not have started any finer.