Sunday, August 17, 2014

Between the us and the veil: Image Comics’ Death Vigil

Between the us and the veil: Image Comics’ Death Vigil
by rick olivares

The eternal battle of good versus evil has been played out in comic books even before superheroes made their print debut. Any new one sounds so cliché-ish, right?

But not so with Croatian writer-artist Stjepan Sejic’s Death Vigil from Image Comics where a team of guardians selected by the Grim Reaper battle necromancers who summon eldritch forces from beyond the veil to wreak havoc on the human world.

Sejic’s Death Vigil is beautifully drawn but the appeal of the book is how he gives depth to the characters. They are instantly likeable and charming; a stark contrast from the grim and gritty portrayal of characters of this particular sorcery and magic genre.

I love how he draws the iPod-listening Grim Reaper whose name is Bernadette but prefers to be called “Bernie” (and she loves music as well). Sejic flip-flops the Grim Reaper who saves lives rather than takes them. And because of that, despite her obvious beauty, she looks as if she literally carries the weight of the world and is tired. Her humor and attachment to her Death Vigil makes her ironically human (and she reveals that she forgets things but remembers each and everyone of the Death Vigil she has recruited including those who were put down for a second time by the enemy).

Sam, one the Death Vigil’s top agents nicknamed “The Digger”, has this roguish Matthew McConaughey charm that endears him to Bernadette who fears his cockiness while eventually be the (second) death of him.

Yet the book is more than simply misfits miscast as defenders of humanity. In true horror fashion, we are shocked to find out early in the first issue when one of the lead characters Clara is out on a dinner date with hey boyfriend Jon who choses the occasion to also visit the grave of his late father. In order to communicate with his deceased father, Jon stabs Clara as a sacrifice to the netherworld gods immediately giving the book its requisite air of gore and seriousness. Jon/necromancer is defeated and Clara is resurrected and recruited by Bernadette as the Death Vigil’s ranks have been recently thinned by the repeated attacks of their foes.

Plot-wise, Sejic sets up the story in the first two issues, introducing us to the characters and their villains. There’s one battle scene that is memorable when Sam conjures the astral form of Vikings to battle some hideous monster. It’s a scene reminiscent of scene from The Return of the King where Aragorn leads the Army of the Dead against the Corsairs of Umbar (and in true indie comic fashion, I also got that Dragonforce vibe with the Vikings appearance in issue #10 – the late Aircel Comic’s premier title that from Dale Keown who grew to prominence for his sterling run on The Incredible Hulk).

With everyone in place after two issues, I expect the story to get downright nastier while retaining the characterization and dark humor that has defined the book.

The necromancers are collecting weapons of fallen Death Vigil needing only six more to place in some nefarious totem that will be perhaps used in conjuring up the ultimate nightmare from H.P. Lovecraft’s deepest and darkest recesses.

Sejic’ spares nothing for Death Vigil. The first issue of this eight-book limited series clocks at a whopping 46 pages (while the second numbers 26 pages) of story and art. Even for the normal numbering of issues, Sejic truly puts pen to paper. The writing is pretty good and is spiced with pockets of humor.

I’ve always said a very good comic book is something that will take you more than 10 minutes to read because you savor every word and marvel at the art. Death Vigil succeeds on both counts.

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