Friday, October 3, 2014

Iron Empires: Faith Conquers

Iron Empires: Faith Conquers
by Christopher Moeller
Dark Horse, February 2004

‘Iron Empires’ compiles four issues of the comic book ‘Shadow Empires: Faith Conquers’, which was published by Dark Horse from August, 1994 to November, 1994. 

It also contains ‘The Passage’, the inaugural Iron Empires comic, which first appeared as a black and white comic serialized in the Dark Horse Presents anthology. It has been colorized in this graphic novel.

Thematically and visually, IE:FC is similar to the Warhammer 40,000 aesthetic, and in fact, this graphic novel advertises the release of 'The Lost History of the Iron Empires' ruleset for a tabletop RPG, that apparently was based on the comic books, and was to be published in 2004, timed to join this Dark Horse graphic novel. 

[Somewhat confusingly, it's not clear if the ruleset ever was indeed published; however, another incarnation of the Iron Empire RPG franchise, titled The Burning Empire, was published as a 656 page (!) rulebook in 2006 by Key 20 Publishing. ]

IE:FC is set in the far future, with the colonized worlds split into various politico-religious factions. These factions spend considerable effort in jockeying for primacy and attempting to subdue one another; charges of heresy are a worthwhile pretext for staging one atrocity after another. 

Trevor Faith is a 'Cotar Fomas', or warrior priest; his family, once eminent in faction politics, has fallen in status and favor, and Faith, by virtue of being a man of integrity and honor, is something of an outcast and troublemaker. As the novel opens, Faith has been dispatched to the frontier planet of Hotok, there to serve as the new chief officer of the Archbishop's guard.

The Archbishop, it seems, is a bit addled and senile, and a group of high-ranking clergy have taken advantage of his weakness and formed The Church of the Transition, a proxy meant to cover their actions to seize power for their own ends.

Trevor Faith enlists the aid of Geil Carcajou, the Archbishop's attractive secretary - and his most loyal employee - in uncovering the conspiracy that underlies the fractious politics of Hotok.

As Trevor Faith soon discovers, there is a particularly troubling element to the conspiracy. For Hotok adjoins a vast region of space that has been infiltrated by a race of wormlike alien parasites: the Vaylen. 

The Vaylen are capable of taking over the bodies of their human hosts, and forcing these hosts to do their bidding. And it looks like the cabal that is trying to overthrow the Archbishop may not have any scruples about using the Vaylen to render their adversaries into their puppets.

As Trevor Faith pursues the conspirators, events will take a dark and violent turn.....and the Kotar Fomas is on his own, thousands of light years from the nearest friendly outpost......

As a comic book series with a Space Opera flavor, IE:FC succeeds, although I can't endorse it as heartily as those quotes used in the back cover blurbs.

Moeller's artwork is the best thing about the book; reminiscent of Howard Chaykin in its use of color and panel composition, it also possesses a kinetic quality that is sometimes lacking in painted comic book artwork.

The writing, however, is where IE:FC labors. The backstory lacks sufficient exposition, and comes vaguely to light amid a confusing melange of invented proper nouns (there are the Dregutai...the Archotare....the Ravilar....the Stentor....the Corvus....mercator.....etc., etc.) and referential dialogue passages. Moeller seems to have been intent on adopting the 'Show, Don't Tell' philosophy of comic writing, and while such an approach may be warranted for some comics, for a galaxy-spanning space opera, well, exposition and orientation are 'musts'.

Keeping track of the various factions and characters becomes a bit wearisome as the narrative unfolds. While the book's narrative continually gains momentum in its final chapter, climaxing in a take-no-prisoners battle, at the finish of IE:FC I still had an incomplete understanding of what, exactly, the fighting was all about.......

'The Passage', the standalone story from Dark Horse Presents, is a self-contained tale of conscience awoken, and sheds a bit more light on the brutish nature of the religious wars that wrack the colonized worlds.

Summing up, IE:FC is a reasonably well-done space opera, if you are willing to overlook the obtuse nature of some of the plot. Moeller's artwork is a nice change from the line-art dominated, PC-centered, idiosyncratic aesthetic that dominates much of the contemporary lineup of sf graphic novels (Image's The Manhattan Projects comes to mind here).

Moeller released a sequel in 1998 – 1999 for DC Comic’s ‘Helix’ comic book imprint. The five-part ‘Sheva’s War’ also has been compiled into a graphic novel by Dark Horse, and released in 2004. I should have a review posted here at the PorPor Books Blog later this Fall. 


Christopher Moeller said...

Thank you for your review of Iron Empires: Faith Conquers! It's timely because both this novel and the second volume Sheva's War are in the final hours of a kickstarter campaign to be reprinted in re-mastered hardcover editions!

A third graphic novel "Iron Empires: Void", is also available as a campaign reward. If you're interested in seeing what the books are about, I would certainly appreciate your support. All the best, Chris

Van Allen Plexico said...

I’m the opposite from the reviewer. The art is great, but what really sings here is the story, and of course the great characters.

As for the complex background, no info dump is needed and none provided. Everything is made perfectly clear as you read the story. I first read it in 1994 when Dark Horse published the individual comics issues and I had no problems following it and understanding the background.

It’s an absolutely brilliantly executed story both visually and in terms of story. Faith Conquers is the best one but the other 2 stories are great in their own ways too. I’m hoping for a fourth.