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Friday, July 3, 2015

Panel Vision - Coven #1 Review

If I had to choose the most dynamic and exciting rising name in indie comic I would point squarely at Zenescope comics.  Zenescope has been, consistently, very ahead of the popular curve, getting in on the trend of converting public domain fairy tales and seminal children’s literature into thrilling action adventure stories well before it came into vogue.  What’s more Zenescope has never been one to sit on their laurels, always pushing ahead and expanding their stable of comics in diverse and lateral ways such as the horror anthology series Grimm Tales of Terror. 

This hunger to advance and skill at staying ahead of trends is finally complemented by Zenescopes major emphasis on female leads, sporting women protagonists in all of their flagship titles.  Some folks have taken issue with the skimpy outfits featured in a lot Zenescope titles but the company has actually done a lot to reduce that aspect of their work.  Even so I actually don’t think Zenescope’s titillating costume design is actually that bad, specifically because the titillation of male readers is never the sole or even primary purpose of their characters.  More often than not even if a character has a very revealing costume they still end up compellingly well written and fully formed as a character and never simply a vacuous object for male gaze.  The other major governing element of Zenescope’s stylized costumes is that it ties into their skill at blending the trends of the ‘90s with popular aspects of the modern day. 
All of these compelling skills and abilities come together perfectly in Coven #1, Zenescope’s latest new mini-series.  Coven is an excellent entry point into the broader Zenescope universe for new comers with its winning combo of compelling action, grander mythology, and a uniquely blended style.  The basic ideas of Coven are fairly standard by this point in time: witches are real and have existed for eons.  However the various witch covens of the world have an enemy, a religious order of witch-hunters known as the New Crusaders.  For years the two forces had been at peace but now the New Crusaders are back and have capture a young witch who is prophesized to become one of the greatest witches ever.  With the Crusader forces still on the move it falls to the girl’s protector Baba Yaga to try and rescue her and defeat the New Crusaders. 

Everything about Coven is an absolute slam-dunk but easily the standout aspect of the comic is how well it blends modern trends with the aesthetics and concepts of the ‘90s.  Covens and witches have developed a lot of popularity in recent years thanks to TV shows like Salem or American Horror Story: Coven but the very idea of witches as heroes fits perfectly into Zenescope’s wheelhouse.  However it also works as a callback to the mid-90s when witchcraft became a popular focus thanks to the movie The Craft.  This particular high-wire balancing act of trends and concepts also extends to the New Crusaders.  The blend of cyber-thriller technology with mystic arcana is the same kind of throwback style I praised Moon Knight for sporting a few weeks ago but Zenescope takes the idea further by really infusing the New Crusaders with modern aesthetics.  Their uniforms are highly reminiscent of the Assassins from Assassin’s Creed while their gear and weapon design comes more form the school of tacti-cool military action than cyber thriller.  It all adds up to an incredibly compelling and unique visual aesthetic that seems all at once novel and strange while also exuding an engaging familiarity.  

The other great thing about Coven is how well it balances its focus.  The New Crusaders are shown to be incredibly violent and pretty gruesome in their evil but there’s a sense this has more to do with the people who have become their leaders rather than the character of their men.  There’s even a member of the New Crusaders, Dartanian, who acts as sort of a co-protagonist to Baba Yaga.  You get the sense he’s sure to be important down the line given that he’s one of the only crusaders willing to voice his objections to the violent methods of their freakish, demonic, Frankenstein of a field leader.  On the flip side, a key element of the plot going forward is that Baba Yaga is forced to collaborate with a more duplicitous and deadly witch, showing that even though there are good witches they may not be the strict norm. 
Coven is the best kind of comic, the kind that gets you genuinely excited about the dizzying arrays of possibilities for this universe and these characters.  As soon as I finished the issue I instantly wanted to read it again in some attempt to will the 2nd installment into existence as quickly as I could just to see what other strange and amazing aspects of this reality might be unveiled.  It’s a gripping action story set in a rich and imaginative universe all oozing some of the best stylistic design the industry has to offer these days.  Highly recommended. 

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