Sunday, April 1, 2012

GN Review -- Land of the Rats: IV / Mark Nasso

From Houston-based comics creator Mark Nasso comes a trade paperback collecting the first four stories in his self-published saga, The Land of the Rats: IV.  Told in an epic style and illustrated in thick, bold black and white by the writer, the stories together make for an interesting exploration into an internal mythology that feels familiar even as the specifics demonstrate its uniqueness.

The first story introduces the main character.  Jack Natari is of a near-human race known as a Raelaki, or more disparagingly as a Rat.  He starts off as a thief, who is captured by slavers and put to work in a labor camp in a distant land.  In trying to escape, he is caught and quickly punished, but soon runs afoul of a horrific beast of legend, the Gastrolithicus, which quickly consumes him.  Trapped in the belly of the beast, Jack is initially resigned to his ignoble end, but in an instance of righteous defiance, resolves to fight and claw his way outside the beast to freedom.  In that moment a sword appears to him, and he cuts his way out from the Gastrolithicus, to freedom.  He takes over leadership of the men who once enslaved him, but is soon rendered solo again, as Gastrolithicus returns, looking for supper.  Jack is thrown free of the beast, but his men disappear, and he starts his journey towards his homeland of Raelak, starkly changed from the beginning of the narrative.

The second tale, The Woman from Iltharra, revolves around a conflict Jack has with the title character, a bandit leader who murders two of Jack's new traveling companions.  At first planning to kill her, Jack is stunned by her rough beauty, and falls in love with her.  He tries chatting her up in a bar, which ends disastrously, and warns the noble she and her band plan on attacking of the impending ambush.  He confronts her instead, and takes out her band quickly, leaving the two of them to face each other in hand to hand combat.  She defeats him, but before she can land a killing blow, the cliff below them crumbles, sending Jack falling into a lake.  He is reunited with his beloved hordemownt, Rhasha, and mutters resentfully about women before continuing his adventures.

The final tale, Encounter in the Vastness, is told in two parts, and involves a quest bestowed upon Jack by a dragon named Mephiliaxus, to protect a beast called the reladont from a Scourlagg named Rega.  The reladont protects the city of Vargoushh from assault of the Scourlaggs, but Rega has found a way to locate and kill it, and it falls to Jack to fight Rega and his men before they can destroy the creature and lay waste to Vargoushh in a play for revenge.  In preparing for his quest, Jack is told by Mephiliaxus of his people's origins, and how Jack is descended from a line of noble warriors to fulfill this quest.  Rega throws doubt upon this when he finally encounters Jack, leaving an uncertain Jack to have to make his own decisions about his destiny.

My first impression about this anthology is that Nasso has a very strong sense of the world, the mythology, and the characters he's created.  The central character, Jack Natari, undergoes a series of adventures that borrow from many tropes in mythology, but that recalls a blend of tones from various modern epics such as Conan, The Dark Crystal, and any number of otherworldly fantasies.  Nasso's strong internal knowledge of his creation and occasional need for lengthy exposition leads to some occasionally dense or awkward moments in the narrative, but for the most part the action flows smoothly and the character and world developments are intriguing.

Artistically, I overall very impressed.  The bold line work and stark detail lend an epic feel to the narrative, from the grotesque facial details of Jack's captors to the vile beauty of the woman from Iltharra.  The gastrolithcus is enormous in scale, horrific to behold, and disgusting to travel through.  There are occasional parts where I'm confused by what's going on or where we are in the story that could use more detail, but overall I came away impressed with the amount and quality of work in The Land of the Rats.

Overall, this is an enjoyable read with a strong sense of internal mythology.  The artwork is striking, and evokes a range of moods in a number of places, most of them appropriate to the situation.  It will be met with enjoyment by those readers who enjoy the quest of the lone hero in a parallel world whose destiny seems far beyond his current station.  Recommended.

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