Publisher: Card Shark Comics
Writer: Dave Cook
Artist: Rafael Desquitado Jr
Colours: Dennis Lehmann
Letters: Garrett Gunn
Release Date: On sale now!
The fantasy genre is a difficult one to traverse successfully, particularly in the world of comic books. While it’s perhaps not all that difficult for aspiring creators to put together a solid enough swords and sorcery romp to add to the collective pile, for a new comic to rise out of the mire and differentiate itself from the rest its competition is a far rarer thing. Thankfully, that’s exactly what Dave Cook and Card Shark Comics have managed to achieve with their latest Kickstarter-funded release, Vessels.
On first glance, this has all the hallmarks of great fantasy; a richly realised world beset by a seemingly unstoppable evil, a powerful hero who perhaps doesn’t realise the full extent of their powers, and a diverse cast of characters, running the gamut from humorous to terrifying and back again. Cook has done a truly impressive job with his world building here, creating the intriguing, multi-layered realm of Cairnthala and filling it with interesting people and places. It’s not initially clear how long this series is set to run for, but based on what I’ve seen in this first issue, I have no doubt that this is a book which could literally sustain years of content.
Our hero – even if she doesn’t necessarily see herself as such – is Wake, a girl who seems to be serving as the focal point for the aforementioned evil, referred to only as the “Eye-God”. Wherever she goes, it goes, and her exhaustion at constantly moving in an attempt to stay one step ahead is apparent from the first moment we meet her. As the issue progresses Wake finds herself caught up in an ancient prophecy (as you do), and her path crosses with a couple of would-be allies; bawdy, crafty thief Marillon and earnest “Mind Keeper” G’Dala, who sees Wake as the “chosen one” destined to save the entire realm.
So far so fun, right? Well, about midway through this first issue – and earlier than that, if you’re playing close attention – Cook tips his hand just a little, offering us a sneak peek at the true nature of his story. I’m not going to delve into the “twist” for fear of spoiling its impact, but it happens so suddenly and so fleetingly that it actually took me a couple of pages to fully process what I’d just read. Let’s just say that it paints the entire story, and the “Eye-God” itself, in an entirely light moving forwards, and provides the main reason why Vessels manages to stand out in the oh-so crowded world of fantasy comics.
Visually, this book features some truly captivating artwork courtesy of Rafael Desquitado Jr. Dennis Lehmann’s colours add some depth, even if they’re perhaps a little too bright and glossy in places, but the overall aesthetic here is of a title that wouldn’t look out of place on any comic book shelf alongside the big hitters like Marvel, DC or Image. Polished would be the best way to describe things, and while the violence is fairly sanitised for the most part, the sheer kineticism of the action sequences is undoubtedly impressive, and Desquitado Jr. shows some real flair to his panel layouts – not to mention some truly inspired character design in the final pages.
In terms of the writing, it’s also clear just how far Cook has come since his work on previous Kickstarter success Bust, and – without meaning to slight his previous offerings in any way – both his narrative flow and the overall structure of his story is a night and day improvement here. Yes, some of the dialogue and exposition is perhaps a little overwrought at times, but the earnest approach to the fantasy aspect of the story is essential to make the aforementioned “twist” resonate as well as it does.
Overall then, while it may – on the surface, at least – look like yet another tired, clichéd fantasy offering, Vessels is actually something far more inventive, far more polished and far more engaging. If you weren’t fortunate or insightful enough to back this project when it was a mere Kickstarter, now is the time to jump on the Vessels bandwagon before it runs you over. You can count me in for the rest of this series, that’s for damn sure, if only to see where Cook and co. are planning on taking this oh-so delicious “twist”.
You can buy a copy of Vessels #1 – along with the first two issues of Dave Cook’s other title, Bust – on the Card Shark Comics online store (CLICK HERE).