Of Cloddogs and Coppers, A Review of “The Battle of Blood & Ink” Created by DoctorQ on 6/4/2012 3:23:38 PM
Doctor Q returns to the writer desk to pen a review on Tor's addition to steampunk graphic novels, The Battle of Blood and Ink
Most who know me realize that among my many passions comics is right up there at the top of the list. So when Tor sent the Chronicle a copy of Jared Axelrod and Steve Walker’s The Battle of Blood and Ink, now out this week at your local comic shop as well as online, I felt the need to review this one personally.
Blood and Ink revolves around Amperstam, A Flying City of Wonders. The City stands out as one of the most intriguing characters of the story, with its districts and markets (“Terminus Market” stands out both as a great name for a market district and a favorite to one who lives in Terminus myself, though non-locals call it Atlanta). The story is bylined as “A Fable of the Flying City,” and though I wish it felt like a fable, it was much more a mystery adventure of the flying city instead. And there’s nothing wrong with that, what steampunk doesn’t love action, adventure, and intrigue? And this story certainly has it, though in a very predictable sense. Our cast within the City seemed pulled from the tropes of many a costumed airship group:
Ashe, our protagonist, is a troublemaker and journalist. Tolban, essentially her first mate, is her partner in crime and pilot. Together, they print the Lurker’s Guide to Amperstam, the local’s guide to the dirty underbelly of activity that goes on in the City, reporting the deeds done by the City’s Provost and her chief enforcer, Olig. As Ashe gets closer to revealing the true nature of the Flying City, the Provost deploys her chief assassin to dispatch her, and the resulting adventure peels back the layers of secrets, lies, and corruption at the upper echelons of the government as Ashe rails against the system to expose them to the public. There are even catchy slang terms to refer to these characters: skydogs, the lower class ruffians who eke their existence day-to-day in the city and the coppers who tax, regulate, and crack down on them. It reminded me of the slang used in Sigil for those that loved their Planescape-era D&D.
The story was predictable, but it was a fun read all the same. It was surprising to me just how developed the world was in which the characters lived. The City seemed to me far more important than any of the actors within it. As someone who enjoys world-building, this was a definite plus, but at the same time, it brought into stark relief the stock-character feel to the main cast.
I found out there is a reason for this heavily developed world. The book is merely another outlet to hear tales of the City, that of a regular podcast series you can download (for free) at www.FablesoftheFlyingCity.com. At the website, the authors have time to craft long-running serial adventures in which our heroes learn even more about the City and its dangers. I look forward to following this podcasting fiction and delving further into the world of skydogs and coppers. I think there I’ll see the layers of complexity and characterization that I thought was lacking in the comic, only insomuch as Jared Axelrod has had the time to really develop them further. It shows great promise, and I hope to see it grow and prosper into a more developed story.
That said, the comic as an entryway into Amperstam is good, but not great. In addition to the characters being a tad on the predictable side from someone quite entrenched into the steampunk aesthetic, the artwork does not impress. It is good, don’t get me wrong, but there is a noticeable distraction in certain action scenes. Some panel transitions are weak from one action point to the next. It seemed that the artist needed a bit more time, as they look unfinished. Which is distracting only because Steve Walker’s splash pages and panoramic vistas of the city are simply breathtaking. He makes a flying city look believable, and has no problems with the odd aesthetic-era sci-fi technology that permeates the world.
In short, while there are some rough edges to the work, I recommend this graphic novel for those who love comics and all things steampunk. It’s a great piece to add to your retrofuturistic collection and, I for one am happy to have it on the wall.
This is a pulp adventure tale good for steampunks who love airships, intrigue, and multimedia adventure stories. It’s not so good for steampunks who like well-defined technology power sources and comic-to-podcast haters.
Doctor Q is the media editor for Steampunk Chronicle and is the Alternate History Fan Track director for Dragon*Con. He is also the co-founder of the Artifice Club and fancies himself an acoustic arranger of music and sequential art aficionado. In his spare time he relaxes with his four-legged housemates.