Romulus (#1 – 4) – Brian Hill

3 out of 5

Acceptable conspiracy fare with too little payoff.

Writer Bryan Hill bravely dives in with us at the deep end, compressing a setup involving The Ancient Order of Romulus – of course the hands behind all those wars and coups and elections over the centuries – and one of their trained killers, Ashlar.  The first several pages gracefully step us through her training, and her devotion to her mother, Axis, also of Romulus.  And the turn: the Order taking more destructive methods, using pill-popping hunters, and eventually going after the old-fashioned assassins like Axis and Ashlar.

Flash forward to a scuffle between one of these hunters and Ashlar, who’s all modern with her ripped jeans and attitude and cool haircut, and who rescues from said scuffle a scientist that the Order would like to put to some nefarious uses.  Artist Nelson Blake II drops his backgrounds a lot, but his paneling, framing, and choreography are all excellent, absolutely overcoming this limitation, and he has an excellent sense of color that he uses to juxtapose his foreground work in a compelling fashion.  Issue one is an exciting, dynamic looking setup.

But things get too complicated thereafter, with too little delving into any one aspect to match the opener’s intrigue.  A competing order are introduced; there’s continual wolf imagery and an interesting feminist agenda from a key Romulus member; there’s mind-reading; there’s kidnapping and grand-scale moralizing…  Each issue in and of itself is well done and of interest, but as an arc, it feels lacking in overall impact, with the scientist plot (spoiler: He’s the one who gets kidnapped) feeling rather undercooked, and just used as a way of shuttling us between important locations where we can witness some relevant exposition.

Joining the fray midway through is fine, but Romulus is too cluttered with ideas for a four issue arc.  Hopefully Hill can find a way to focus things for the next one.