"The Royals: Masters of War" #1 snuck up on me, hitting the new comics rack with a story from Rob Williams and art from Simon Coleby. I'm not sure how I missed it, but I sure am glad I found it at the shop this week. Opening high above Berlin in 1945, the creators of this comic throw the readers out the plane with Prince Henry, right into the middle of a nearly tangible firefight. The opening scene could easily translate to a pre-credits scene for a big budget, louder than life film, but quite honestly, Coleby, with colorist J.D. Mettler, delivers an astonishing scene packed with detail and exploding with action.
The notion fueling this comic is that royalty -- of every country -- possesses super powers. In a sense, the rulers of nations serve as their own deterrents, keeping one another in check simply by the sheer threat of war. Under that premise, Williams doesn't try to make the characters likeable, he just pours the characters over the readers, drenching readers in plot, subplot and family structure. By the time Williams switches scenes after the first seven pages, it is quite clear who's good, who's bad (not clear in personal identity, but clear in conflict) and what's going on. This story is set in the heart of World War II. The primary players represent England and Germany. People are going to die and have been dying long before page one of "The Royals: Masters of War" #1. Williams tells the story, sweeping readers up, but he doesn't overwhelm. The cast is fairly limited: the House of Windsor, the Royalty of England, some of whom are super-powered, but their patriarch, Albert, is not. Albert's lack of super powers has not compromised his political power and his will is instilled over his family, keeping their powers in check, for the most part. Albert's family includes Henry, Rose and Arthur. Arthur is an aimless partier while Rose and Henry are trying to find their place in life.
Coleby's visual collaboration with Mettler melts together spectacularly, each bringing out the best in the other with a rough undercurrent of debris floating through the pages. Clearly working from Coleby's pencils, the colors are worn and reserved, at times appearing faded, while other points simply seeming dirty and covered in the spoils of the battles being depicted on the pages of "The Royals" Masters of War" #1. Coleby's character designs are noble and strong, naturally aided by the uniforms of the royals. The artist packs the pages with details: skeletons of the fallen, shorn metal wreckage that once bore the threat of doom, and the vehicles themselves. The opening scene of the Avro Lancasters (please feel free to correct me on that one, I'm more familiar with jets than props) is dazzling in detail. Henry leaps from the centermost plane, but Coleby has constructed the page to guide the reader throughout the spread, filling the pages with explosions, propellers and mechanical specs on each of the planes. The detail sweeps throughout the issue, providing ample opportunity for readers to pause, study and absorb.
Equal parts Elseworlds, standard-issue Vertigo fare and war comic, "The Royals: Masters of War" #1 is a fresh, unexpected tale filled with familiar notions. Readers the world over are familiar with the concept of royalty perching above the masses, here that perch is fueled by super powers. This is a very sound story on a solid concept with no shortage of action and intrigue. This is a fine addition to Vertigo's modern library.