If you were an X-Men fan in the mid ‘90s, there’s a good chance you were a huge fan of Joe Madureira. From his days drawing the first Deadpool solo series to his run on Uncanny that helped define the book through such important periods as the Age of Apocalypse, Joe Mad’s manga-styled pencils were the lifeblood of the era. As such, many (myself most assuredly included) were super excited to see the artist strike out on his own with not only his own creator-owned series, but a whole imprint dedicated to putting out his (and Humberto Ramos and J.Scott Campbell’s to be fair) ideas. The imprint was Cliffhanger, and the book – more importantly – was Battle Chasers, a high fantasy action series rooted in a world that was essentially a steampunk Skyrim and featuring a cast of misfit adventurers that ranged from a 10 year old girl with the strength of a giant to a fierce war golem with a heart of gold to a scarlet-haired thief who most assuredly has a significant presence on the shadier parts of Deviantart (it was Image comics in the 90s, realistically proportioned women were pretty rare). The series was a bonafide hit, with many of the issues going to multiple reprints – it was also beset by a series of delays that saw Madureira release just 9 issues over the course of 3 years.
Though I already own all 9 of the series’ main issues, the Battle Chasers Anthology collected by Image (through a deal struck with DC, who now owns property) is a welcome addition to the shelf of any diehard Mad fan. In addition to collecting all 9 issues of the main series, the Anthology also features the Battle Chasers Prelude, a side story that originally ran in Frank Franzetta’s Fantasy Illustrated, a number of unfinished pages from the unreleased 10th issue, as well as sketches and concept art that haven’t been seen since the days of Wizard Magazine. As a Mad stan, I wish there were a hardcover version, but considering the last time anything Battle Chasers was released (comics-related, at least) was a less comprehensive compendium back in 2011, I’ll take what I can get.
For the uninitiated, Battle Chasers ostensibly follows 4 characters exploits throughout a mythic land full of mages and monsters. This brings us to the first issue with the series as it is, Madureira was clearly thinking of making the gelling of our central cast more of a slow-burn development than the series’ limited release schedule would allow. As such, though we learn a bit about Garrison’s past, and see flashes of Gully’s struggle with the loss of her father, Calibretto, Knolan and Monika (arguably the series’ breakout character) have histories and motivations that are really only hinted at. It’s a shame too, because Knolan’s backstory was clearly building to what was going to be a much larger central arc for the series featuring the shadowy wizard known as August. This storyline was absent from the 2017 videogame (Battle Chasers: Nightwar) too, so unless Madureira finally bites the bullet and names a new creative team for the property, we’re unlikely to ever find out where that storyline was going. Sadly, that’s not a unique issues as everything from Garrison’s former master Maestro’s hunt for Monika to the significance of Sebastius Nefar’s role as Aramus’ bastard son are plotlines that will, seemingly, never be resolved.
Another thing new readers will have to contend with is how thoroughly 90s this book is – for better or worse. Fans of Joe Madureira know the artist treats every panel like it’s a splash page, putting every drip of detail, emotion and oomph he can into literally every panel. It’s part of what made most of us fall in love with the guy, and part of the reason the series faced so many delays, but I bring it up to emphasize that there are no quiet moments in the book. Oh there are dialogue scenes and semi-somber moments, it’s just that they’re drawn as if they were action sequences. Having Joe Mad do a quiet scene is a bit like taking a Ferrari to get milk from the corner store, so a lot of sequences are unnecessarily ornate. This is both a blessing and a curse to be sure, as it does lend smaller moments a sense of gravitas, but it does leave some sections feeling a bit overdone and un-earned. Speaking of everything being overdone, it must be pointed out that some newer readers may have a hard time squaring away the hyper-sexualized representations of Monika with more modern sensibilities. Even the backing stories by Adam Warren, whose art style is not quite as Bombastic as Mad’s, tend to present her as more boob than person. Yes it was a different time and all that, but some of this cheesecake may make some a bit embarrassed to read this book in public. It’s one of the reasons it’s a shame the book never had the time to develop her character much – it makes it harder to explain away the often gratuitous imagery surrounding her.
That all being said, naturally, the action sequences in the book and the overwrought dramatic posing is also a large part of the charm here. The battle in the capital, for one, is a stand out action sequence that I still compare many action scenes to – and the scene of August attacking Raimon should be taught in art school when discussing dualities and facial expressions. There’s a lot of the gritted teeth tough guy moments, and the character names can at times be a bit much (who would have thought that ‘Sebastius Nefar’ would be a bad guy?), but the pace never lingers long enough to let you think too much about it. This book is a fun ride while it lasts, and that’s honestly the important part of the book. It’s a thrilling adventure that, sadly, just never gets going from a storyline perspective.
Overall, this is still the book you remember from the 90s, for all the good and the bad that entails. The art is at once stellar and off putting, the colors from Liquid and co. are vibrant and give the pages pop but often create distance from the emotion being portrayed on the panel, the world Madureira’s created sucks you and leaves you wanting more, but leaves you holding the bag on the storyline. The series was lightning in a bottle, and though it hasn’t aged perfectly, it’s still a fun fantasy romp with all the excess and excitement that comes from a Joe Madureira book. It’s not going to reinvent the wheel or anything, but it’s a worthwhile addition to your comic shelf.