Publisher: Aftershock Comics
Writer: Adam Glass
Artist: Pat Olliffe
Colorist: Gabe Eltaub
Release Date: December 28th 2016
Rough Riders, from upstart publisher Aftershock Comics, sees a tortured Teddy Roosevelt recruiting a team of legends to undertake a covert mission for a shadowy cabal of American businessmen. With the likes of Thomas Edison, Harry Houdini, Annie Oakley and Jack Johnson in his ‘crew’, it seems like the team are prepared for anything, but when the truth behind the sinking of a US warship in Cuba is revealed, they quickly find out just how out of their depth they really are.
This volume collects the first seven issue arc of the ongoing series, and, well, it’s bloody fantastic. Yes, there are shades of Hickman and Pitarra’s Manhattan Projects to the story at times, with real-life historical moments and characters being given the fantastical treatment, but writer Adam Glass does a great job of planting his own flag here, creating an edgy vibe and frequently utilising an almost steampunk aesthetic which really works well to set the tone as the layers of the mystery are gradually unpeeled.
More than the story itself though, the real strength of this series, for me, is down to the interactions and blossoming relationships between the different members of the team. Johnson and Houdini’s back and forth banter is my personal highlight, with the brawny, womanizing boxer contrasting wonderfully with the diminutive, understated magician. Roosevelt and Oakley have some winning exchanges too, with the foul-mouthed latter’s reluctant attempts to go undercover in an evening gown providing some absolute gems of dialogue.
Visually, Pat Olliffe and Gabe Eltaub combine to paint a vivid, dynamic world packed with impressive set pieces and a wonderfully cinematic approach to the more fantastical aspects of the story. The frequent action set pieces are rendered smoothly and excitingly, and the facial expressions as the characters interact with one another really help to hammer home of the wit of Glass’s dialogue.
The story builds gradually at first, feeling almost like a “Magnificent Seven” style action movie as the pieces are pulled together and the team members recruited, before lurching rapidly into the unexpected midway through this first arc, providing a wonderfully inventive slant on this otherwise old-timey action and mystery series. As I mentioned, there’s a distinctly cinematic feel to the story, and Rough Riders is definitely a series I could see doing very well for itself on either the big or small screen. Here’s hoping, anyway.
A wonderful high-concept adventure executed to perfection and packed with fantastic world building and characterisation, Rough Riders deserves to be right at the forefront of Aftershock’s continued assault on the comic book world.