Book of Death #1

It's hard to come up with such a simple yet ominous sounding title for a comic book, but "Book of Death" #1 not only succeeds with the name of the comic but also the story within it. Robert Venditti's story is plenty straightforward, as the Eternal Warrior takes on his usual duties by safeguarding the world's geomancers, even if the one he's protecting now is from the future and carries her own book of death that foretells the demise of the world. It's a grim forecast indeed, if only a possible one, yet it's also morbidly fascinating, as Robert Gill, Doug Braithwaite, David Baron and Brian Reber bring the prophetic words of this tome to life.

At eight pages, this flash-forward is a lengthy look at a grim near future of the Valiant Universe, but it's also the issue's strongest sequence. Gill and Braithwaite don't hover too long over any given character and, in fact, this series of glimpses reads like a movie trailer that sells readers on what's to come. In its few years of existence, the Valiant Universe has become a fairly extensive place, and Venditti peeks into just about every corner of this ever-expanding continuity. Each of these pages bears additional scrutiny; every panel is a tunnel into different characters' futures. Most are grim, yes, but not all, and this variety of moods between individual panels evokes different emotions that take readers on a mood-swinging journey through the future. The darker colors convey a largely darker mood, but Venditti balances this with at least a few glimmers of optimism.

The remainder of Venditti's story, though, is somewhat formulaic and many of the main players lack any kind of real dimension. Gilad's dedication to protecting this girl in the future defines who he is, sure, but here it also makes him appear all too dismissive of the massacres that are occurring all around them due to her presence. When Aric of Dacia confronts Gilad about these countless deaths, it comes across more like macho posturing on his part more so than genuine concern. The present-day portion of the story is strictly linear; the Unity team finds evidence of Gilad's involvement in a disaster and decides to go after their former teammate. There's some dissension cooked up amongst the group to make this pursuit seem more plausible, but there aren't any real twists and Venditti relies on the future sequence to carry the issue.

Gill and Braithwaite not only bring the future to life, but also make the present day pop. Collectively, their linework isn't unlike that of veteran George Perez; the figures and backgrounds are clean and realistic, but not overly true-to-life. When necessary, the artists rough things up a bit; things appropriately look a lot prettier in suburban North Carolina than they do on the battlefield. Baron and Reber follow suit with much brighter shades in the 'burbs than anywhere else. However, all artists collectively succeed most is in the dichotomy between a horrific slaughter against the backdrop of an otherwise quiet and idyllic neighborhood, as disturbingly displayed in a shock-inducing double-pager that states the nature of an unseen foe without seeming overly gratuitous.

"Book of Death" #1 is an artistically versatile comic that's passably written and driven largely by one sequence, averaging out to make a more-than-adequate introduction to a future that doesn't seem quite so predictable.

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