Brigands (#1 – 5) – Ram V

3 out of 5

Brigands is another surprising entry from Action Labs, surpassing its meager setup and presentation to produce an impressively engaging five issue extended prison break.  “Meager” for two reasons: that the ‘get a band of baddies together to commit a deniable crime’ obviously isn’t new at this point, whether or not the setting is swapped for Game of Thrones-esque thieves and cutthroats fantasy – as it is in Brigands – and also because flipping through the title’s pages isn’t all that impressive, but more on that in a moment.

Hiding behind some admittedly amazing covers by Mukesh Singh – Action Lab is smart in applying its production costs on such eye-grabbing things – which properly evoke the kind of Frazetta pulp to which this genre might play (though its been updated with a fair amount of four-letter language), V. Ram develops an intriguingly paced setup in which “Blackheart” is saved from execution by a clearly untrustworthy lord to procure a potentially powerful artifact, his specific services requested such that said lord can easily wash his hands of things should they go wrong.  To accomplish this procurement, Blackheart must gather the band of like-minded ne’erdowells, which ends up rerouting us to a prison for most of the arc.  …Which is a bit of a let down in a way, as we’re promised a quest and then we hit this prison snag and end up having to wait it out, but Ram gives his various leads a fair amount of personality and jumps to other characters in his fantasy setting to flesh Brigands’ world out appreciably.  The series thus “breathes” a lot more than others of the type, which helps to distract from, when one stops to think about it, the rather vague and shaky setup.

That you can also be distracted from the book’s rather amateurish (and at times quite unappealing) look, also speaks to the power of Ram’s script.  Nick Barber’s art in issue one is fairly blocky and breezy, but there’s a nice sense of mood and momentum to it that makes it work.  Starting in issue 2, our characterizations and action scenes take a bit of a hit, details skimped and odd foreshortening, and by issue 3 some panels, frankly, have the style of thumbnail sketches, just stiff figures arranged to give a bare minimum impression of a scene.  It’s perhaps not surprising then that Barber gets subbed out for issues 4 and 5 (we’ll assume deadline woes of some type as the cause), but it is surprising that the sub (Alex Diotto) doesn’t seem to fare much better, with inconsistent figures, an unconfident sketchy style, and more of that thumbnail stiffness.  It’s not a good look at all.  To top it off, Action Lab generally doesn’t have the best color production, and Brigands, mired in a muddy Fall palette, suffers from this greatly, though colorist ROSH also seems to think that pale, sickly green is a good skin color and forgets to color the sky uniquely when its ominousness is meant to be a plot point.

So she ain’t much to look at, but Brigands is still a mostly successful adventure tale, though it’ll be good to (hopefully) see the main plot actually gain momentum in the next arc.