Bellatorem #1 Review
Ï don't know why we don't see a lot of epic fantasy in comics. We should be drowning in covers that look like Frank Frazetta paintings. You get to create all the visuals you can only hope a reader gets in a novel at a fraction of what it takes to get those visuals in a movie.
That's the reason Bellatorem exists. I first ran into it on Bleeding Cool, in the context of its creator, Octavius Ra, never having even read a comic book before starting to make this. He created it because he was never going to get it produced as a movie as an unproven filmmaker.
It's hard to see this outside of knowing that context. It can be great (a fresh, outside perspective) or bad (not knowing how this type of story works), but that's outside the comic itself. I need to do my best to judge it on its own terms, and try to set that aside.
It doesn't look like the hypothetical Frazetta-inspired comics I mentioned above, but it nails what I'd want this to look like. It's not trying to be "real", "dark", or any other misused adjectives that make so many comics look terrible and messy. It looks like concept art for a movie, but with a focus on storytelling, not just visuals.
The art does the story more favors than the writing. I'm not talking about the many invented names and massive backstory; that comes with the territory for this kind of story. Told well, you can make even the craziest of those work well.
It starts off with a prologue, which always puts me on edge. Contrary to most other comics I read, this could do with dumping the reader in without all that background. It's not relevant in this chapter, so even if it becomes relevant later (and I'm sure it all will), it drags this down. Instead, we could be dropped in and when the characters mention the Monaki and Serici, we wouldn't know exactly who they are. Seeing how the characters talk about them, we'd know they're ancient and important, and that's all we need right now. As the story goes, more explanation can come up as it's needed, not dumped on us at the beginning.
And it just ends. We're in the middle of a scene, and there's an important line from the main character*, but not a line you end a story on. It ends in the middle of a scene, with no real warning, before the story has started to get going. It started to have a direction, and then stopped before it could go there.
I'm not going to hold the blatant film ambitions against the story. It feels more like a storyboard/pitch than a comic, which doesn't make for a great comic. If it made a great comic, those ambitions wouldn't factor into the appraisal.
And yet I'm intrigued. There's a second chapter in the works, and I'm interested in the next one. Maybe it's the art, or seeing the edges of what could be so much better, or something else I haven't identified. Either way, somehow, this did manage to do the one thing a first issue needs to do: get you interested in the second.
*Okay, look back at the article I linked to before. The writer mentions at the very end that chapter two will introduce the story's hero. The emperor we spend the first issue with isn't the protagonist of the story. I don't know what to make of that.