Having an interest in Chinese history, my attention was caught by this book, set in China during the 11 Century (there or thereabouts). See what I thought of it after the jump!

Widow Warriors #1
Writers: Lloyd Chao & Christine Chi – Long To
Pencils: Pat Lee
Inks: Troy D. Zurel, Craig Yeung & Sergio Anaya Arevalo
Colours: Michelle Lo & Pat Lee
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover: Pat Lee
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

The story concerns China at some point between 986 – 1068 AD. The Yang family, one of great warriors, have been fighting for the Sung Dynasty for generations, but most of the men of the family are wiped out whilst fighting against the Liao family. Their grieving widows, unable to get justice from the Emperor, decide to form their own army and wage war on the Liao.

All Aboard the Plot Train

The best way I can think of to describe this book is to sum it up in one word, and that word is, ‘confusing’. I’ll state now that I have no previous experience with the authors and have no idea if I’m correct in this, but the book really felt as if it was either written by people for whom English isn’t a first language, or been translated from another language. The dialogue is very blunt, with some things just being announced rather than shown through more subtle means. There are also a few unnecessary narration boxes: we do not need to be told, ‘The sun dips low over the grieving household,’ when there is a picture of the sun setting behind the house.

Despite the criticisms I can make towards this book, I must praise the writing for creating a good feel for the story. The whole issue feels very Eastern in origin and, honestly, that made me much more willing to look past a few of its shortcomings. Make no mistake, I still find those flaws to be flaws, but the fact that the book captures an appropriate style makes it much more enjoyable as a whole.

Pacing is also a problem throughout this issue. Events move very fast, and I found myself having to pause occasionally to make sense of everything that was being thrown at me. The attempt to persuade the Emperor to take action is resolved in about three panels and then, in the next panel on the same page, the scene cuts to the Emperor talking to his advisor; swift changes like this can make the book difficult to follow. Another large issue in this area is that characters are introduced suddenly and without build-up. Sometimes all we get is a single mention of a character’s name, without any introduction, and then they are part of the story that we are expected to follow. At some points, the relationships between characters aren’t adequately explained, and we’re left scratching our heads trying to figure out exactly why they’re interacting the way they are.

A Refreshing Decision

Not particularly helpful to the fluidity of the story is the art and panel layout. Just as the writing moves very quickly, so setting and characters, and hence the art, changes at the same rate. This is a big problem in sequential art, as it becomes very difficult to create the impression of fluid events when there might be a change of setting every few panels. And, indeed, the art in this book encounters problems in this area and at times really feels very juddery and static. A lot of the characters also look very similar, and this does not bode well for remembering who’s who when the characters are thrown at us without warning. The panel layout also causes problems: it is sometimes not particularly clear which panel follows which, and this is especially troublesome during the battle scene in the first few pages (that and, once gain, I had trouble telling who was who out of the people we hadn’t properly been introduced to). This also became a problem when scenes changed mid-page, as it really broke my immersion in the story when I had to figure out whether a panel belonged to one scene or the other.

That said, the art is pretty in and of itself, and I found that the style fit the setting rather well. Despite a number of characters looking the same, one or two do have distinctive faces, and these are well drawn (indeed, the similar-looking faces are also well drawn). It is all the more a shame, then, that I find myself dreading action scenes, rather than being excited about them, as I don’t want to get completely lost for a few pages. The colouring is also good, with some pleasant use of light and dark that does help differentiate the scenes.

The cover features the ‘widow warriors’ in a fairly generic group pose. Rather inexplicably, there is some sort of strange monster in the background, which I can only assume is a sign of things to come as there is definitely no suggestion of it in this issue. The cover is well drawn, like the rest of the book, and Lee has done a good job here of making the warriors look intimidating and like they’re actually going into a battle. In fact, I want to take a moment to praise this book for resisting the opportunity exhibit cheesecake art, as so many books of similar themes might; it is most refreshing to see female characters that are dressed appropriately for combat.

A Dynasty To Last?

I can’t say that this book was my kind of cup of tea, it was confusingly laid out and confusingly paced, and overall I really can’t give it a personal recommendation. However, I can see how someone might take a liking to this series, especially if you enjoy the art: there is definitely a good feel to the story, and the opportunity to become immersed exists, even if I was never able to take it. Yet, I can’t say that I plan on following this series, and all things considered can only award it two stars out of five.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Author

Scott Hunter

Scott Hunter

He spells 'colour' with a 'u' and has the Queen on his money, but Scott Hunter loves pop culture all the same. His first memories of comics are of going down to the local corner shop to buy issues of The Beano and watching the 90s X-Men and Spider-man cartoons. He only recently started reading and collecting comics regularly, but has plunged himself heart and soul into the hobby, bagging and boarding with the best of them. Outside of comics, he enjoys sci-fi (reading, writing and watching), good-bad horror films playing with a brass band. Favourite writers include John Wagner, Alan Moore, Mark Waid, Alan Grant and (in non-comics literature) Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft. Colin MacNeil, Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bolland and Alex Ross rank among his favourite artists.

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