RV9 is a new series from Mad Cave Studios steeped in the underworld of assassins. Writer Ben Goldsmith and Artist Travis Mercer are in the nascent stages of world-building for a new IP. As far as first issues go, there tends to be a delicate balance creators struggle with when introducing readers to a new world while simultaneously pushing the story forward. The goal is to provide an incentive to have fans coming back month after month. There are some missteps here, and the comic has a rough pace, but there are enough breadcrumbs to pique readers’ interest and have them return for a second helping.
Mad Cave Studios describes the issue as follows:
Former assassin Velveteen is on the run from the Order of the 9, the organization that took her from her family and forced her into a life where all she knows is secrecy, violence, and death. Now, after years of running, she is bringing the fight to them. With help from an American hacker, Jasper, and a rookie officer with an attitude, Inspector Pazzi, Velveteen will use everything she was taught by the Order of the 9 against them.
The story may have readers comparing RV9 to other properties of the same ilk — Kill Bill immediately comes to mind. But to do so would be unfair to the creators. RV9 does enough to leave its own indelible mark. The Order is comprised of nine members, each of whom has mastered and memorized one of the Nine Books of Knowledge. Each book is tied to a fruit that represents its respective concentration. In turn, each area of focus grants the assassins abilities beyond the normal scope of man that are revealed throughout the issue. For example, one member of The Order, Volta, uses the Book of the Cosmos, which appears to provide her with empathic abilities; a “third eye,” if you will. Velveteen was forced to memorize the Book of the Spirit, associated with the strawberry. We soon come to realize that mastery of a book grants each member a unique ability. Goldsmith provides some clarification by the time the issue ends, but Velveteen’s ability remains ambiguous, making me want to discover what she’s capable of.
As far as characterization goes, RV9 is a mixed bag. Granted, the author has a lot to do in such a short window of time, but at no point do any of the characters feel fully fleshed out. Within the first few pages, readers are introduced to Signor Volta, clearly the head of the Order. Volta murders Enrico, a member of the 9 for losing track of Velveteen. I was torn with this decision. It immediately felt like a trope; Villain kills a subordinate to indicate to readers just how evil this man is. On the other hand, these are assassins, and murder is their way of life. The simple fact that moment felt out of place speaks volumes.
Mad Cave’s very own overview mentions Inspector Pazzi. The Inspector is literally in only two panels, one of which is expository, as he openly speaks to himself indicating it’s his first day. This exposition is clearly for the sake of the audience. Captions or thought balloons would have been better served here, but Goldsmith opts to forego captions altogether.
Velveteen herself shows signs of an interesting character. If you’re looking for a moral compass in your protagonist, look elsewhere. Velveteen broke free from The Order, but the brutality and shrewd abilities for murder remain. Velveteen targets crooked criminals that work under the thumb of The Order. Men and women corrupted by Volta’s influence. There are some interesting dynamics at play that lend themselves to plot threads readers can sink their teeth into. Cain is leading the search for Velveteen, but his loyalties are divided. He and Velveteen are somewhere between past and current lovers; up until this point he has refrained from truly seeking her out for the order. Things change, however, and so do people. Cain ends up with odds with Velveteen, and a battle ensues with Cain spewing The Orders rhetoric at Velveteen. The gesture rings false, Cain appears to be more ambivalent in his emotions, rather than siding with The Order. Only time and further reading will tell.
I am a sucker for allegory and metaphor. RV9 doesn’t exactly scream “heady storytelling,” but there is something here. After being burned by Cain, Velveteen decides to take the fight to her pursuers. Velveteen and her tech guru Jasper leave their hideout with immediacy. She Takes the Velveteen Rabbit with her after her location is blown. Keen readers will instantly recognize the classic children’s story. The story teaches readers that being loved is what makes all of us “real,” enabling us to overcome challenges, live freely, and be ourselves. The parallels to RV9 are apparent. Velveteen’s name alone seems a bit “on the nose.” During an interview, Writer Ben Goldsmith indicated that the assassins chose their titles; a far more logical justification of the name Velveteen.
In terms of plot, the story thus far in RV9 leaves something wanting. The Order’s motivation behind there actions can be summed up in a relatively straightforward manner: bring “true order” to the world, the “veins of true history.” The issue is paced well enough but felt rushed from one scene to the next with little in the way of context.
Overall, RV9 has some apparent growing problems, but there is enough here to justify a read. The first issue does just enough to warrant a purchase, and I have confidence that the series as a whole will only pick up steam with every subsequent issue. RV9 #1 is a solid first effort for a series and a studio that is beginning to make a name for itself.