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Archaia Studios Press

Written and Drawn by Hub and Translated by Edward Gauvin

OKKO joins THE KILLER in Archaia’s recent line of European imports, but other than that distinction, they have precious little in common.

Set in the year 1108, Okko is a ronin, wandering the Pajan Empire (that’s not a misspelling) and battling demons. But when a band of pirates pillages and ransacks a village and kidnaps a young woman named Little Carp, his mission changes course and adds new faces. Among them is Noburo, a mask-wearing giant who was betrothed to the young girl, and Tikku, Little Carp’s brother. It is Tikku who becomes the ultimate catalyst of the story, as he offers his life and servitude if Okko will track down Little Carp and rescue her from her fate.

As you might guess, the pirates are working for something far larger than themselves, and Little Carp’s survival portends an extremely unpleasant direction her life could be taking. But with the assistance of sea gods and perhaps a bit of good fortune, Okko and the others may eventually find her and deliver her back into the arms of her brother and future husband.

The story is fairly formulaic, putting a group of strangers with little in common on the trail of a common quest, but it gets a kick of sorts from Hub, who delivers some truly spectacular artwork. The use of color and shading is remarkable, and you can get lost just staring at some of the pages and picking them apart visually. Be warned, however, that part of that opulence involves blood, and copious amounts of it. This is a book that very much earns its “mature readers” label. But those mature readers will find a book worth their time to take a look at.

Marc Mason

Written by Matz and Drawn by Luc Jacamon

He’s a small, dweeby little man. You wouldn’t look twice at him as you walked down the street. But for the rich and immoral, he’s so much more than he looks: he’s death incarnate, a sociopath for hire, and if your wealthy spouse or corporation wants you dead, he’ll make you vanish from the face of the Earth.

THE KILLER, a fantastic-looking European import, tells the deadly man’s story, from his first kill to his philosophy of murder. We meet him as he awaits the arrival of his next target, yet that target is long overdue, pushing the killer’s psyche a bit as he must wait to fulfill his contract. Unfortunately, the waiting appears to have exacerbated the erosion within his mind, and it looks like he may crack at anytime. Pity the local populace if that occurs.

Good fiction always takes us someplace interesting or new, and THE KILLER certainly qualifies. We’ve seen many stories over the years that took us inside the head of a murderer, but none quite like this one. Everything from his origin to his choices to his immoral foundations feels fresh and exciting to discover, and as illustrated by Jacamon’s art, it is also wondrous and beautiful. I really groove on seeing an artist and writer mesh like this, and it is helped immensely by the fact that artist Jacamon actually did the English translation for the book, so not a whit of intent and meaning are lost.

Along with MOUSE GUARD and ARTESIA, this book shows that Archaia is developing a solid foundation for producing some of the most amazing looking comics on the shelves. Check this one out and see for yourselves.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by David Petersen

Petersen’s indy smash reaches its penultimate issue, and it does so with style. The plot has been exposed; the Guard know who is behind the recent troubles and why. The bad guys are on the move, and the heroes are nearly powerless to do anything about it. And a little bit more about the history of the guard and the characters themselves comes to light.

My primary complaint about this book so far, though I’ve enjoyed it immensely, has been Petersen’s plodding pace in developing the plot and revealing what’s going on. But for the first time, that isn’t a problem here. Each character is headed for the same destination, for good or evil, and a confrontation waits. The ball is rolling downhill in issue five, and it feels very satisfying to catch it and roll along with it. No more sequences that feel padded though gorgeously drawn. Not to say that this isn’t lovely; far from it. Petersen breaks out the reds with this issue, and it is the best looking one to date. You’d never think to call something featuring mice holding axes and marching through a torrential downpour breathtaking, but that’s precisely what these pages are. Amazing stuff.

The final issue looks to be a siege of mammoth proportions, and really, at this point, Petersen has engendered so much good will with how good MOUSE GUARD has been to date that all you can do is sit back and hope he doesn’t blow it. Hard to believe he will, though.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Mark Smylie

After I finished reading issue two of this mini-series, I realized that I could just about plagiarize my review of issue one and be done writing up this one. Because nothing about my opinion of the series altered, except that this issue is even better than the first.

When last we left Artesia, she and her armies were under siege in the city of Abenton, and the threat of full-out attack was lurking at every turn. So to occupy herself, she was dealing with political struggles and availing herself of her many studly concubines. But with issue two, the time for action has come, and soon she must lead her troops on a quick strike in order to feel out the enemy. But when the opposing leader spies her in battle, an offer of a meeting is offered, and even though he is known as a scheming, traitorous shite, Artesia and her lieutenants take him up upon the white flag moment. Trouble, as they say, might ensue.

Issue two offers up a lot of action, balancing the more cerebral aspects that Smylie played with in issue one and returns to in the last half of this effort. And much like his character work, Smylie shows tremendous skill in portraying these moments. Indeed, it doesn’t seem like there’s much Smylie can’t do; this is one of the best looking comics on the stands, blending character, action, sensuality, and vibrant colors together in a near-perfect package. I heartily recommend ARTESIA BESIEGED.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by David Petersen

MOUSE GUARD begins its back half with all three of the guardsmen in terrible danger. One has infiltrated the group accused of being traitors to their society, and his ability to stay hidden is tenuous at best. An older mouse that believes them to be thieves and the actual traitors has captured the other two. Faced with swords, spears, and hot pokers, the outlook for the furry protagonists isn’t very good.

My biggest complaint about the first three issues was that Petersen’s pacing was glacially slow, but he begins to rectify that problem with this issue. While we still aren’t fully entrenched in what’s going on, and very little has been revealed, there’s at least a sense of movement towards something of a resolution this time around. The bad guy finally makes an appearance on panel, if only shadowed, so genuine progress is part of the proceedings.

Petersen does struggle in depicting some of the action this issue, as the battle to capture the undercover mouse is confusing and unclear. However, the sequence where the other two escape the bonds of the older mouse is executed perfectly. It just feels like something where Petersen will grow into consistency as he develops as an artist.

In all, MOUSE GUARD still delivers a solid, entertaining read.

Marc Mason

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