New To You Comics #68: Mad Max Set In Middle Earth- ‘The Realm’ Volume 1

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, pro wrestling, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule. 

This week, Brendan introduces Tony to Image Comics’ The Realm Vol. 1, by Seth Peck and Jeremy Haun. Here’s what Image says about the book:

‘Fifteen years ago, our world was overrun by creatures of myth; orcs, dragons, and other nameless horrors threw the entire planet into total chaos. Today, the shattered remnants of civilization must fight just to survive in a deadly new era of violence and mayhem.

While a powerful sorcerer marshals his forces, a group of warriors embark on a journey to reclaim our world from the growing darkness. An all new high-fantasy adventure series from co-creators Seth M. Peck and Jeremy Haun featuring colors by Nick Filardi and letters by Thomas Mauer.’

Brendan Allen: At first glance, The Realm is a story we’ve seen many times. Seth Peck and Jeremy Haun serve up a post-apocalyptic wasteland, teeming with feudal warlords and mercenaries. Then they take a sharp left by throwing orcs, dragons, and dark rites into the mix.

The cowboy on the cover with the six-shooter and the hand-and-a-half? That’s Nolan. His aptitude with a bolt action and a six piece gets him a commission from a warlord named King to retrieve King’s “daughter” from a situation that calls for a little more than a strong cup of coffee and negotiation skills. It doesn’t take long to go completely sideways.

What did you think?

Tony Thornley: This was a fun one. It’s a great twist on the post-apocalyptic dystopia genre. It kinda starts like the Walking Dead but with orcs and goblins, and builds from there. It’s fun.

Brendan: Did I tell you this one came with a soundtrack, too? Image teamed up with indie rock band Me Like Bees to deliver a five track LP called Songs From The Realm. It’s got like a steampunk folk thing going for it, which fits the book perfectly.

 

Tony: You mentioned it! It’s kind of a cool side thing for a book.

Brendan: I really appreciated the pacing of this first volume. Peck showed a lot of restraint, setting up the post-apocalyptic bits, the basic infrastructure. There’s a strong sense of place, before any of the orcs or dragons, or giant bugs show up. You can smell the sweat and feel the grit under your nails. 

Tony:  Oh yeah. It uses the shorthand of the common dystopias that we see in comics to get you into it in the first few pages, then slowly builds across it. In fact, Peck uses a lot of tropes and cliches in the way they should be used- to show something familiar before building on them and twisting them into something unique and new. It’s smart writing for an introduction that Peck gets away from completely by the end of the volume.  Good build up into its own unique thing.

Brendan: I did mention it’s not entirely unique, but I think it wrapped in some of the standard tropes in ways that made it feel fresh and unique. There are a couple books that are currently trying to walk this line. One of them, Scout’s Honor, did it incredibly well. In fact, I think having read and reviewed that series so recently is what made me recall how much fun I had with The Realm. (When Scout’s Honor comes out in trade, it’s definitely going in queue.)

Tony: One issue I did have, and this is really common in high concept Image books, is that the story jumps in a little TOO suddenly. The en media res introduction is great, as long as the text catches you up a bit later. It wasn’t until the back cover that I knew that the magic folk showed up suddenly 15 years ago. It’s fine, I got the gist of it quickly, but a handful of captions on the first two pages could have done a lot for the world-building so you’re not a bit behind filling in the gaps.

And again, this isn’t a problem unique to The Realm. It’s a common one in comics, and especially in Image’s creator owned series.

Brendan: I think this has come up before in the column. I don’t necessarily mind the gaps, as long as they eventually get filled. Hell, I don’t mind them much when they don’t get filled, so long as they could reasonably be filled. I don’t need to know everything up front, and it’s abundantly clear down the road that things were planned out well in advance, and not ret-conned in to patch up holes. 

Tony: Oh I agree. But just a little bit more information would have helped. I mean, this is far from the worst. I’ve read entire first issues where the lead character isn’t even named! Peck did a great job in general though.

Brendan: Jeremy Haun really showcases his range, bringing The Realm to life visually. Haun’s attention to detail is evident not only in the action scenes and subtle facial cues, but also in the vast post-apocalyptic cityscapes. 

This is a beautiful book, in a grungy, bloody Mad Max/Lord of the Rings kind of way.

Tony: Definitely. I also really loved the fantasy creatures. Haun has a great eye for creature design. His goblins and orcs were so cool, and he didn’t just copy Tolkien and Jackson, like a lot of artists might be tempted to. The fantasy world is familiar but unique.

I would have loved to see one of Haun’s dragons in this volume, but I guess I have to wait on that until a later one.

Brendan: No dragons yet. But giant bats, and a Lovecraftian squid monster with lots of teeth. 

Tony: And a few humanoid wizards, which were cool in a different way.

Tony: By the way, I loved the subtle lettering tricks Thomas Mauer used to set apart the humans and the fantasy people. Even the most human “monsters” used a different font and balloon style than Earth’s citizens.

Brendan: Yeah, that’s a slick touch. 

Tony: It was. Especially when you realized one of the human wizards has the fantasy letters while the other doesn’t? It’s SUPER subtle but very effective.

Brendan: That’s why I bring you along on these rides. I hadn’t even noticed. Nice catch. 

Tony: Yeah, I actually had to reopen the book to double check and make sure I wasn’t remembering that wrong!

Brendan: I think you know by now, fantasy isn’t necessarily my genre. I really liked this one because it does cross into several genres I am into. I’m a big fan of most any well written post-apocalyptic nonsense. That definitely went in favor of The Realm. Then there are horror elements, and spaghetti Western/samurai themes, and all three of those are well within my normal ranges. 

Where’d you land on this one?

Tony: Aside from a few small things, I liked it a lot. It’s absolutely worth a read.

Brendan: Fair. And what do we have up next in queue on your end?

Tony: We’re going to revisit one of our favorites from last year, with the second volume of Something Is Killing The Children!

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