[11 June 2014]
If I were to pitch Sovereign to you I’d say it’s Game of Thrones meets Evil Dead. So basically, Army of Darkness. Minus Ash and the whole time travel thing. I don’t know how much the supernatural angle played a part up until now, but as of this issue, all hell breaks loose in the court of the Great Rhan. The plot revolves around three groups of travelers, all with one thing in common; they’ve come to speak with the Emperor. However, it is too late as the ruler has passed and having failed to name an heir, the court is now split between his three bickering sons. It is made clear through a brief flashback that their father admired strength above anything and that he intends for his sons to fight it out for the throne. Turns out this is the least of their worries.
The court lies on haunted ground, and the royal brothers barely have time to grieve before their worst nightmare is upon them. Just when it starts to get interesting, it ends very abruptly on what is intended as a cliffhanger but did not feel like a final page. With so many paths converging at the climax of this issue, it felt a little too neat and tidy. A natural storytelling flow was replaced with methodical plotting and you can feel the writing happening. The author’s strings pulling the characters towards their goals are quite visible and so character motivations feel more like devices to serve the plot rather than push it forward. They are just simply pawns being moved into their designated square on the board and lacking any depth that elevates them beyond that. Perhaps future chapters will unveil more layers to our ensemble, but for now, we’re focused on the big picture and less so on what makes our players tick. If we’re meant to root for any of them, it’s unclear who that is.
Unfortunately the art doesn’t do anything to raise the quality of the material. Some books are worth picking up for the art alone. This is not one of those books. The illustrations are adequate to tell the story but without any punch. The style isn’t very well defined, where on one occasion two characters in a single scene don’t seem like they even belong in the same comic together and appear to be drawn by different artists. This lack of consistency isn’t a deal breaker but is certainly distracting.
Having skipped the previous issues, I didn’t feel lost dropping in on this chapter, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The concepts aren’t super challenging and it was simple enough to figure out what was going on (despite no recap page) as the characters make their goals and thought processes crystal clear, almost to the point of spouting exposition. Having said that, this could have easily been issue one. General consensus was that things were pretty slow going leading up to this so to kick it off with this issue where it really gets moving might have been the way to go. In comics a writer should treat each issue as if it is the reader’s first comic, consciously crafting it to pique a potential fan’s curiosity and keep them coming back for more.
This isn’t my first comic, however, if it were, I don’t think it would be enough to reel me in for more Sovereign. Image has been pretty consistent with their titles lately, developing into a go to for creators and fans seeking a creative alternative to Big Two superheroes and a plethora of licensed titles. They’ve earned their reputation as a hub for original content and I am very rarely disappointed with what they have to offer. Sovereign is a rare miss in the Image catalog in that it feels like any generic publisher could have produced it. Or it could be that I’ve been reading many recent titles that are so inventive that my expectations have been raised unfairly by comparison. But how could I not compare? That’s what we do in comics. We look at what the other guys are doing and how we can do it better and trump the competition. I’m not sure what Sovereign is setting out to accomplish. Perhaps there is a master plan in play and right now we’re just seeing the tip of the ice burg but in a market as competitive as this, that tip has to be razor sharp to cut through the glut or risk losing its audience before it has time to grow.