Friday, July 3, 2015

Recommended Reading for 7/3: The Order of the Forge

There are comics that are great, comics that will be remembered and discussed by scholars for years. And there are comics that will warm your heart and comfort you when you need it. And then there are comics that are fun and completely batshit insane. This week's recommended reading is one of the latter. The Order of the Forge is a story of a young George Washington fighting viking zombies to protect the colonies for crown of England. And if that sounds crazy, man the actual comic is even crazier.

Conceived by produced Donn D. Berdahl, the mini-series is written by Victor Gischler, with art by Tazio Bettin. My first experience with Giscler was his superhero work, which was OK, but then I read a fantasy short story he wrote for an anthology of non-illustrated short fiction, and it struck a chord. Since then, I've read a bunch of his horror comics, especially liking Kiss Me, Satan, about a demon who is trying to do right in the world, and his current run on Angel & Faith and have found that work top notch. Factor in my love of the pre-Revolution/ Revolutionary War era of American history, and I was sold at the outset on this book, and it lived up to my wildest expectations.

The series opens with young George Washington having a fight with his father. In anger, he performs one of the acts that made him famous, which is chop down the cherry tree his father had planted. But he loses control of the ax, and it flies off and lands in a Native American totem pole. When he pulls it out, he's blasted with mystical energy. And he runs off, fleeing Virginia. Flash to six months later, where he is working as a servant at a mansion with a young Paul Revere, and they have befriended Ben Franklin. When Kate, the niece of Lord Hammond, the owner of the house, arrives, she stumbles upon her uncle's plan to find an artifact and use it to overthrow the king in the colonies. She tells George, and he and his friends must stop Hammond before it's too late. And thanks to Ben Franklin's lightning experiments combining with the magic from George's ax, they might just each have the powers to do it.

Sounds nuts, right? And it totally is. But the comic embraces this over the top premise and runs with it. It does a good job of fleshing out the characters as well. George is haunted by the curse that came with his new powers. Sure, he now has a magical ax that he can wield with amazing power. But he also literally can not tell a lie, so he comes off sort of brusk and a jerk. Paul Revere is the lighthearted member of the group, who loves nothing more than riding Guillotine, one of Lord Hammond's horses, and the magic bonds the two of them together, allowing Guillotine to be sheathed in flame and run like no normal horse. Ben Franklin is the drinking, whoring, party animal he was according to many biographers, and gets his intellect heightened so he begins building weapons like nothing seen in the 1750s. And Kate Hammond is not a shrinking violet lady of the 18th century. She's tough, smart, and gets super acrobatics and fighting skills as her magical gift. Also, as an interesting note, she is half Indian (India Indian, not native American), making her stand out distinctly from the remainder of the very white cast, and adding something to her backstory, as Lord Hammond scorns his brother for marrying a non-English woman, and producing an heir who is not white. They form a great center for the plot to revolve around.

Lord Hammond isn't a particularly three dimensional villain, but for a comic as broad as this, that's fine. I can actually hear a Peter Cushing or Alan Rickman performing his lines, really adding some classic Hammer horror  and British gravitas to his fiendish plan. He is aided by his right hand man, who has two wolves that serve as his pets, because every arch-villain needs a sidekick who is a deadly threat. That aide is named Drumknott, which is a nod to the same named secretary of Lord Havelock Vetinari, the Patrician of the city of Ankh-Morpork from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. It's not the only Discworld reference in Gischler's recent work, and so as a fellow Discworld devotee, I salute you, sir.

The comic is actually a perfect three act adventure. Issue one is the set-up where you meet the characters and understand the stakes. Issue two is the chase, as George and his friends must use the map Kate stole to find what Lord Hammond is looking for before he gets to it. And issue three is the climax, where Washington must face Hammond, where the find a buried ship called The Forge guarded by Viking zombies, and where they find the weapon Hammond seeks. In a purely critical sense, that structure is perfect, and it makes each issue exciting in its own right.

Oh, and a note of language. There is no attempt to make the language in the series sound "old timey" for want of a better word. Everything is written in modern vernacular, up to and including the sears. And there are a lot of swears. These are guys in there 20s fighting evil English lord, wolves, and zombies. Of course they're gonna cuss.

The Order of the Forge isn't going to change your life and the way you look at comics. But it's a fun, self contained story (that I can only hope leads to more stories of these characters, as it's left open ended without a cliffhanger), one you can read and walk away with a smile on your face, and on the eve of Independence Day, I thought nothing would be better to write about than out first President as a mystical hero. And I was right.

The final issue of The Order of the Forge was released two weeks ago, so all three issues should be available at your local comic shop, or easily ordered by them. A trade will be released on November, in time for Thanksgiving.

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