February 16, 2014

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The Royals: Master of War 1


Written by Rob Williams
Illustrated by Simon Coleby
Published by Vertigo Comics

To paraphrase a misquote of F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Royalty are different from you and me, because they have more money. Also, super powers." That is the premise behind the terrific first issue of "The Royals: Masters of War" created by Rob Williams and Simon Coleby. In the world of this story, the royalty of differing nations have not only money, wealth and power, but superhuman abilities such as super strength, flight and telepathy.  We meet the royal family of England during World War II, recognizably different from the actual royal family of England during the war. (Side note: Wouldn't "The King's Speech" have been improved if Colin Firth made his triumphant speech and then flew off to kick the crap out of the Nazis?).

At the beginning of the issue we're shown a dramatic aerial assault, beautifully illustrated by Simon Coleby, and we get to see young Prince Henry in action (and he's very impressive). We then jump backwards in time to learn about what brought us to these dramatic moments.  We meet a younger, less weathered Prince Henry, his sister Rose (Henry and Rose seem to have a very close relationship), their loutish older brother Arthur, their father King Albert (who apparently is a rarity in that he does not possess super powers), and the military personnel who work with the Royals. In this world, the royals of differing nations have agreed to a non-involvement pact preventing them from using their special abilities in war, but Prince Henry is young and idealistic and bristles against this restriction.

This is a great mashup of superheroes, alternate history, secret history and social commentary. The dialogue has wit and spark, the characters feel believable, and the visual storytelling is grand, epic and powerful. While being completely Coleby's own style, the look of this book brought to mind the "Shift Ships" story line from Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch's run on "The Authority" (also involving an alternate England), along with Hitch's work on "The Ultimates". If you are a fan of those series, give this a look (and if you're not a fan of The Authority or the Ultimates*, seek professional help).

This book immediately creates an interesting world about which the reader wants to know more, combined with epic, widescreen art that beautifully conveys real human emotion, the grit and horror of war, and the wonder of super-powered beings. It's a striking, skillfully executed debut issue, and I highly recommend it.

*Editor's note: I sincerely hope James is referring to the Millar-Hitch Ultimates only here. Otherwise, we need to talk!-RobM