A review a day: <i>Cipher: The Sorceror Pope</I>

Onward we go, with more goodies from San Diego!

I've rhapsodized about my love of Steve Bryant's Athena Voltaire before, so whenever I'm at the convention, I have to spend some time chatting with him. This year, he had a "convention preview" of a new comic called Cipher, which is similar to the Athena Voltaire stuff but with a more modern bent and with the "Athena Voltaire" character heading up a team of agents. He told me he was thinking about writing this as an Athena Voltaire story, but through various things too long to get into here, he ended up simply creating a new character.

He also got himself an artist, JunBob Kim, to draw it, and a letterer, J. Matthew Crawley, to letter it. It has a price tag of $4, but I don't know if that what the "regular" comic will be. I also have no idea if it's going to be colored or not. Only Bryant knows for sure!

Cipher tells the story of Ursula Wilde, archaeologist extraordinaire (she's absolutely nothing like Lara Croft, I tells ya!). She heads up a team of three men and one woman who wander the Earth doing archeaological stuff. In this issue, we learn that her team has been contracted by a wealthy software magnate to find a head. Specifically, a golden head that predicts the future. That was constructed by Pope Sylvester II, patriarch of the Church from 999 to 1003. Sylvester was rumored to be a magician, and the head is supposed to be a primitive binary computer, which is presumably why the software guy is so interested in it. So Ursula takes her team to Italy, where they find the grave of Sylvester's rival, inside of which is a clue to the location of the head. Of course, other people are interested in the head, so Ursula and her gang end up in a firefight. Isn't that always the way? And, of course, the software guy had, two decades earlier, hired Ursula's parents to find the head ... and they promptly disappeared. She was raised by her somewhat creepy uncle, and presumably the fact that her parents "disappeared" and were never found will play an important part in future issues.

This is all fairly standard action/adventure stuff, but Bryant is pretty good at it, so it's fun to read.

He throws us right into the action and then flashes back to how Ursula got the case, awkwardly introduces the cast (Ursula narrates as they contribute to the discussion about the head; it's not the worst way to get us up to speed on the characters, but it's still awkward), and then returns us to the present, with Ursula and the group trying to escape a sticky situation and then learning some more stuff about the "bad guys" who attacked them (I use quotes because we don't really know if they're bad guys or if they just don't want Ursula to get the head, although they do shoot first and never ask questions, so I'm sure they're not particularly nice). I was enjoying the story, even though it was familiar, until one of her crew mentions that one of the bad guys is a modern member ... of the Knights Templar. Sigh. Even though the Templars did not exist when Sylvester was Pope, Bryant makes the case that they were rumored to worship a head of some sort (usually, it's a non-existent pagan deity named Baphomet), so the golden head that Sylvester created would be a pretty keen relic for them. Now, I'm a big fan of the Templars. I've been a big fan of the Templars for 25 years. But I'm also a bit sick of them, especially when they're supposed to be a modern organization that somehow survived for the last 900 years and now secretly run the world or some such nonsense. I don't mind stories featuring Templars that are set during the time of the Templars (1119-1314, which are generally accepted as the start and end dates of the Templars), but I get annoyed when they still survive into modern times and are used as a "Vatican hit squad," as a character describes them. It sucks all the fun out of this story, unfortunately.

A sorceror pope? Heck yeah! Templars in modern times? No thanks.

Now, you might not think this is a stumbling block. If not, then this is a perfectly good adventure story. And I still like it, because Bryant knows what he's doing with regard to adventure stories. Plus, he has a very good artist in Kim, whose art in this book looks somewhat like Phil Jimenez, which I think is a good thing (you may not). Kim does a nice job with a somewhat big cast, and his action scenes are very well choreographed. He has really nice details, and if he's photo-referencing stuff, I can't tell. This is a very nice-looking comic, and that goes a long way.

I want to really love Cipher, but mainly because the Templars seem so worn out, I can't. Bryant is always entertaining, and Kim's art is very nice, and who doesn't love a story revolving around a thousand-year-old pope, but man! those Templars. They bug me. I do hope Bryant and Kim can get an entire mini-series out, because I'm sure it will be fun to read.

Tomorrow: Jumping out of airplanes! Teddy Roosevelt! Dr. Moreau! It's crazy, man!

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