Friday, 16 October 2015

Death Vigil, Volume 1 by Stjepan Sejic Review

I'm guessing writer/artist Stjepan Sejic noticed that a Goth-chick Death was the most popular character in Neil Gaiman’s bestselling The Sandman and decided to reuse the character for his series, Death Vigil. Eh, why not? 

The reaper is a Goth-chick called Bernie who leads the Death Vigil, a group of immortal death knights, in a centuries-long war against the Necromancers. Our heroine is Clara, a recently deceased young woman, who discovers her boyfriend is a Necromancer and is recruited into the Vigil. She learns, she loves, yadda yadda yadda… 

I’m not overly familiar with Sejic’s work – I know him only as the latest artist on Rat Queens – but, looking at his bibliography at the back of this book, he seems to be Mr Fantasy Artist! A shame then that his writing is not nearly as accomplished as his art. Death Vigil is a torturous read! 

Pacing is the major issue of this book. Sejic overloads each panel with busy art and too much exposition, then crams too many panels into each page – the effect is overwhelming in a negative sense. I can understand the first couple of issues (this book collects the first 8 issues in the series) being heavy on the exposition because the story needs to explain things to the reader – who everyone is, what’s going on, etc. – but the info dumps never end; we’re still stopping for overly-long speeches from characters well into the final act of the story! 

As a result, reading is a slow trudge. Sejic isn’t an experienced enough storyteller to know when to let the pages breathe. Maybe space out the constant dialogue and let the reader take in the visuals? Let’s have fewer panels in the pages, maybe work on editing down the info dumps to just the essentials and placing them within more dynamic settings than simply characters literally sat down listening to another lecture? 

It doesn’t help that the story itself is hopelessly uninteresting. It’s a generic goodies vs baddies setup. There’s this crazy woman translating forbidden texts because she’s got a grudge against Bernie – she didn’t save her kid or some dumb thing – and the baddies are gonna use those texts to take over the world or whatever. It’s the kind of facile story you get with computer games and, coupled with the overall look and plot, I kept expecting a Capcom logo to appear before each chapter – Death Vigil’s very much like Devil May Cry minus the frenzied button-mashing! 

And the dialogue – lordy! Is there anything worse than reading a writer trying – and failing – to imitate Joss Whedon or Brian Bendis? Granted, those two set the template for how almost every modern team comic sounds, but hardly anyone writes dialogue at the same level as those guys. Sejic certainly can’t and his tossed-off asides and bad puns are maddening to read over and over. For fuck’s sake, stop having your characters roll their eyes, raise their eyebrows, and pun! 

I could go on about how indistinct the characters are – both goodies and baddies and how they’re written and how they look – and how stretched out and underdeveloped the plot is; how the final act is a sloppy mess with no narrative tension, the annoying Yu-Gi-Oh character’s soliloquies, why some people can’t see them because they’re dead but at a certain point and for no reason suddenly everyone can, and a dozen other things - but I’ll leave it there. 

I will say Sejic’s art though is quite wonderful. Very precise, eerily beautiful, I love the colours and some of the action scenes are truly awesome. The art was the only thing that made reading the comic worthwhile. 

Maybe the more hardcore fantasy fans will enjoy Death Vigil, but don’t expect the kind of quality you get from Rat Queens or Red Sonja – Sejic is a talented artist but he’s nowhere near the same quality as a writer or storyteller. For all its visual charms, I found the book itself enormously boring and uninteresting to read, lacking a memorable story or a compelling cast of characters. Can’t recommend it.

Death Vigil, Volume 1

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