SACRED SIX #1, available from Dynamite Comics on July 8th, begins a new story where creatures of the night attempt peaceful living in the town of Ashthorne in an uneasy alliance with humans. Christopher Priest’s story sets up multiple threads from Dynamite’s canon of Vampirella characters to weave a narrative that’s completely new, and yet, all too familiar.
There’s no better way to kick off a Dynamite series than with a cover by Jae Lee. On the painting, Nyx, Pantha, Chastity, and Draculina are overlooking their collective target, ready to pounce. Without even a hint of action, Lee’s composition and whimsical style communicates characters that are powerful and confident.
Priest’s story establishes the town of Ashthorne, and the dynamics of its supernatural residents, pretty quickly. First, through the eyes of its children. Then, through the misfortune of one its local zombies. Finally, through the conflicts of its town leaders.
Priest’s concept is pretty simple (“a town of monsters that just wants to be left alone”), but he deserves kudos for establishing so many interpersonal relationships in a small amount of pages. That said, there are a few too many threads started all at once with jarring cuts in the narrative flow. It was difficult to absorb it all without having to re-read the issue more than once. The inaugural issue could have benefited from either more pages or focus on fewer sub-plots to start off.
Lee is a go-to artist for Dynamite covers, so it was a major treat to see him also drew the prologue as well. (Note for Dynamite: convince Lee to do a whole series or at least a one-shot). Lee’s prologue is a young adult’s slightly re-imagined recount of ancient Egyptian intrigue, and it’s gorgeous. The Egyptian characters are drawn with aristocratic superiority, and Lee’s signature whimsy suits perfectly for a vampire-centric story.
Moving on to his first mainstream work, Gabriel Ibarra draws everything post-prologue to set up the goings-on in and around the town of Ashthorne. Lee and Ibarra’s styles couldn’t be more different, but where Lee captures the majesty and magic of ancient Egypt, Ibarra breathes life into the dust and shadows of a Gothic town filled with gloom. Ibarra’s characters are immersed in constant shadow, even during the day. Although the creatures of Ashthorne live in peace with humans, Ibarra’s use of hidden eyes and faces that just barely emerge from the shadows when speaking gives the distinct impression that everyone in Ashthorne is dangerous.
June Chang and Mohan’s coloring stands out for visual interest when almost nothing is bright or clear. In the sunny heat of an Egyptian battlefield, the scenes are covered by the yellow haze of smoke and sand. During the children’s walk home, two perspectives are colored (for two different sets of children) with the foreboding gloom of a setting sun. And the Ashthorne town meeting is barely lit by candlelight to keep the otherwordly residents “comfortable.” It’s almost a portfolio on the myriad of expert ways to do haze and indirect lighting for dramatic effect.
Willie Schubert’s lettering is the glue that holds this issue together. Lee and Ibarra’s work are both gorgeous, but the shift from one to the other is a bit harsh. Schubert softens the shift with lettering that maintains a consistent level of readability and tone for the reader during the transition. This is a great example of lettering that helps to balance the art.
SACRED SIX #1, available from Dynamite Comics on July 8th, kicks off a complex new story in the Vampirella universe. The characters are fully-realized, and the art, from two separate artists, is dramatic and perfectly suited for the horror genre. This book is worth a look.