Fan favorite author Ales Kot is debuting a new set of one-shots to be released sporadically under the title The Darkness. Up first is Vicious Traditions #1, a gritty tale of a doomed Roman legion. Is it good?
The Darkness: Vicious Traditions #1 (Image Comics)
I mention this in every review I write about Ales Kot’s beloved series Zero, but I’ll say it again here: this guy knows how to make a lasting impression from a violent, one and done tale. The one-shot is possibly my favorite format for a comic book story. An author can say what they need to say and get out, no storylines or crossovers, just a simple tale to either stick with you or forget about. Vicious Traditions #1 is a mastery of both the one-shot format and just comic storytelling in general. It sends an incredibly powerful message and is brief; squeezing an entire battle into just 22 pages and making every page count.
The story is very unique, without having to sell itself as some far-out novel concept. It’s the story of a group of Roman soldiers visited by a strange, superhuman visitor and warned one last time to surrender before they meet their death on the field of battle. The sophistication and depth of this issue, however, does not come from the battle itself, but from the narration by the superhuman. He shares insights into human nature, the art of war, coping with moral conflicts; he takes on extremely important and difficult questions against a backdrop of savagery and brutality. Because he can’t be killed he is above the humans, but still feels pity for them and understands the extreme anguish of the battle. It’s a very moving issue that highlights some key elements of understanding warfare past just hacking and slashing.
The narration is one thing, but the intensity of the dialogue in the beginning of the issue, is something else entirely. The general of the doomed legion talks about how he knows he and his men are going to die, and how he accepts that. He understands that the empire as a whole is going to crumble, he embraces that. He’s no longer looking for that smidgen of a chance that he might survive, he realizes he’s screwed. “The legion is fucked. The empire is fucked. Our future…isn’t really our future anymore, is it?” This passage shows his defeat and his acceptance of defeat so well, and it really makes us pity him and feel bad for him even though he’s a monster. That’s why at the end of the issue when the general dies at the hands of the superhuman, the scene is all the more powerful. We understand the characters just from their brief encounter and the fight scene is really so much more than just fighting.
When Dave, our comics manager, sent me this comic, he wrote “I like the art in this book.” Well, Dave, so do I. Dean Ormston uses some of the shading techniques and inking that Mike Mignola made popular, while making the bloody scenes really beautiful to look at as well. There is a simple and surreal color palette that makes the atmosphere dreary and gritty, the perfect backdrop for this horrible battle. The combat looks really finished and the action is very easy to follow. I love the paneling on the last fight scene where we are told the story just through glimpses. A set of eyes, a foot movement, then a clashing of swords. It’s a really perfect show of what sequential art can do for a story.
Is It Good?
If you could purchase one comic today, it should be Vicious Traditions. This is a brilliant artistic achievement and should be read and enjoyed by all. Definitely not a gorefest or horror comic like the cover advertises, but rather a study of humans and their nature, set against the backdrop of something horrific.