Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chronic Review: Tales of the Dragon Guard # 1

Tales of the Dragon Guard # 1
Soleil/Marvel Comics

Script: Ange
Pencils: Alberto Varanda
48 pages for $5.99

Round about episode # 130 I covered this one in the "Next Week's Books" segment, put on my deep over-the-top British voice and really let rip with the solicitation copy. OH, did we laugh at this one. But me being me, I was mildly curious to test drive a Soleil comic, and wildly curious to watch virgins get after dragons.

Let's cover some fine points before we tackle the meat of the story. Soleil comics are french. They don't really do superhero books, specializing more in fantasy and science fiction. Sort of like Crossgen, only without a fascist tyrant running the firm. "Ange" is actually a nomme de plume for the writing team of Anne and Gerard Guero. Sort of like Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, only with more penetration. And virgins are women who have never had sex. Sort of like me.

So when you see a Soleil book, you're looking at a reprint; a comic originally published in France, now translated and re-packaged for American readers. How cultured! This particular brand has a big fat "Mature Content" slapped on the cover. Mostly because of the breasts, but it's deeper than that. More on that score later.

In this comic, the world is plagued by dragons. They're big, they're powerful, and they're so bloody evil that their very presence infects and taints the surrounding geography and population. That infected area where humans turn into monsters becomes known as "The Veil". It's not a good place to be.

The only persons immune to this effect are virgin females. Not only are virgins immune to the physical/spiritual warping of the dragons, but they do not appear on "dragon radar", either. Usually they can feel you coming a mile away. Virgins have to be standing directly in front of a dragon to be noticed. The Dragon Guard represents a collection of virgin warriors dedicated to eradicating the bastard lizards. The comic tells stories from the historic annals of this (sometimes) revered clan.

It would be very easy for this book to fall prey to its sillier tendencies and become an exercise in T & A. Ange have fun with that aspect, to be sure. There are boobies in this book, and it understands on some level that a bunch of young virgin girls kicking dragon ass is a juvenile male fantasy. It embraces that, actually.

But it never caves in to the "juvenile" part of those expectations, and it does a very good job of putting some reality into the fantasy. I'll give you an example. This particular chapter of the Dragon Guard history focuses on the knight Jaina and her squire Ellys. The pair sit and wonder over a travelling lunch break how it was ever discovered that virgin girls were immune to the Veil. Young Ellys believes that enough brave girls attempted to protect their homes that eventually it became apparent. Here's Jaina's theory:

Who's right? Are either of them correct? We don't know. The comic takes the perspective of Jaina and Ellys, so if they don't see it, we're left to guess based on the evidence. There's another mystery that comes to mind toward the end of the book that seems conspiratorial, but the reader is left to their own interpretation. There is evidence that the dragon Jaina is questing to dispatch has been around longer than the local authorities advertise. Oversight, or were they waiting for the Veil to create gems near the dragon lair and letting peasants get killed in the interim? Hmmmmm.

This is a smarter book than you'd believe if you simply got sidetracked by the nipples. People react to the Dragon Guard on a wide spectrum as well. There is some gender bigotry, but Ange don't paint anything with too broad a brush. Everything in Dragon Guard is left a little complex, like life. I wish more comics were like that.

There is real horror in the story as well. We get a glimpse of Jaina's origins, and they are brutal. Her last images of her parents are trying to survive them as they succumb to the Veil. Most of that is handled off panel, which I also appreciated. It's creepier told in the fragments that we do get to see.

Jaina and Ellys meet a family on the road that they perceive as raiders. The surviving children claim they are just uninfected peasants hoping to find some help and food. Maybe that's the case, but they were waiting in the bushes with weapons. It's tough to know how to feel about that. And that's like life, too. Jaina sends the little girl down the road with this advice: "If your little brother start to scales or claws..kill him." See what I mean? This is not a T & A book, this is what the bad girl craze should have been in the 90s.

I can't say enough good things about this book. There is one plot device regarding a decision that Ellys makes at the end that feels a little false logically, but for the story it creates drama. And I can forgive that. There is some "Cinemax After Dark" type nudity, but the comic doesn't rely on that like a crutch. Varanda's pencils are fantastic. The women are gorgeous, the Veil infected are disturbing, and the Dragon looks awe inspiring for the "boss battle" at the end. I'm not an art critic, but doesn't this unusual panel perfectly convey motion?:

Tales of the Dragon Guard contains action, sex appeal, social commentary, horror, and it builds a world that lives and breathes with its own quirky rules. I'm completely impressed with this title, I'll keep an eye out for anything available in the states by Ange, and I'm on board with Dragon Guard for as many issues as I can find.

- Ryan


Anonymous said...

Nice to see someone is reviewing this. I have read most of them (the original French) and they are some of the best comic books I've ever read. The story and the art is great and they really capture the world they're trying to portray.

The chronology can really get confusing by the 5th volume, I hope you guys will like it and that the Marvel translation will do it justice. Anyway, it's not your run-of-the-mill sword and sandal book.

Anonymous said...

Ange rocks!

Ange stories are always amazing. It's nice to see Ange's work is finally making it to America.