The Mourning Star #1 & 2
Kazimir Strzepek, writer/artist
Bodega, 2006 & 2009
Vol. 1: 220 pages
Vol. 2: 256 pages
Of all the alternative action-adventure comics I’ve been lumping together in discussions for the past couple years, Kaz Strzepek’s The Mourning Star is the ripest candidate for crossover success. His cartooning is clear and appealing, with endearing, often adorable character designs and well-choreographed action sequences, reminiscent of the work of Brian Ralph without Ralph’s ars gratia artis, printmaking-derived design sense. Strzepek’s world-building–in the sense of both “backstory” and “readily understandable physical environment”–is top drawer, recalling everything from Dungeons & Dragons to Tolkien to The Road Warrior to The Dark Tower without coming across like a rehash of any of them. While its blend of an obviously personal vision with universally accessible ideas and visuals puts it more in line with Scott Pilgrim than Powr Mastrs, the involvement of Highwater vets Randy Chang and Jordan Crane in its production leaves little doubt as to its altcomix cred. It’s like a post-Fort Thunder Bone.
In reading The Mourning Star‘s first two volumes back-to-back recently, what struck me hardest wasn’t the admittedly rock-solid introduction to the characters and world provided by book #1, but the time we spend with its villains in book #2. It’s very easy and tempting for one’s grown-up, self-aware genre art to willfully return to a black-and-white conception of protagonist and antagonist. And I don’t blame anyone for doing it! The point of escapism is to escape, and giving your villains big black hats is a welcome relief from the shades-of-gray nightmare we live in day to day. But taking the time to depict villainy as the result of relatable choices is rewarding in its own way. In Volume 2, we discover through Strzepek’s seamlessly natural dialogue that the Rule aren’t just sinister, unfeeling killers–although they’re that, too. They’re people who banded together in The Mourning Star‘s postapocalyptic world for security and safety and who believe their brutality is what can continue to ensure this. They have leaders whose approval they sometimes crave and whose orders they sometimes resent. They have medics to heal them when they get hurt, and equipment that breaks down. They’ve got seasoned veterans and wet-behind-the-ears rookies. They tell each other urban myths. They jockey for position and remember their lives before they became the barbaric rulers of the cities and wastelands. In short they’re just like anyone who’s ever shored up an evil regime–potentially normal guys and girls who at some point lost or deactivated their ability to empathize, who don’t mind ordering or supporting the murder of people they don’t know. Maybe that’s why I’m rooting even harder than ever for the good guys to beat them in the end.