Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether: Book I – The Map (Kickstarter Edition) – Greg Rucka

3 out of 5

I feel bad not giving this a perfect score because of how enthusiastic the presentation is and because it always feels awesome to see a Kickstarter project come to fruition.  But Greg Rucka is generally a character over story guy, and this translates to his initial arcs rarely being the type that grab you right off the bat.  But once you get a twinkle of a character or story piece you like, if you stick in there, he’ll win you over.  And I – and I’m sure other followers of Greg – have no doubt (this being my first exposure to Lady Sabre, as I have a tough time staying current with webcomics) that this series will develop similarly.

For now, though, we’re left with shells of genre and character stereotypes that are well written, but yet to be filled in with a full sense of identity.  Part of this could be said to be purposeful, as the influence of pulps and old serials are all over this (via Rucka, via artist Rick Burchett), but part of it is certainly working at his usual pace.  Lady Sabre is his rebellious, independent woman archetype, who’s stolen a map from some important people and ends up crossing paths with Rucka’s stoic, tow-the-line archetype lawman, Drake, the duo agreeing to an uneasy partnership to follow the map, each for their own reasons.  The world is a steampunk world, the lands flat lands, floating in ‘aether,’ arranged in a circular shape that’s akin to various sci-fi worlds like Discworld or, recently, Ian Edginton’s ‘Brass Sun.’  Along the way there are swordfights on zeppelins, gunfights with automatons, faux-psychics who suddenly summon frightening prophesies and creaky judges turned evil by money.  But it’s absolutely enjoyable, and none of it is empty or phoned in, we’re just watching ideas taking shape, and those ideas are rooted in recognizable concepts / tropes.

On the art tip: it’s gorgeous.  Each webcomic could be said to equate to about half a comic page (and is presented on its own page in the book), but obviously splitting the focus requires paneling specific to that, and artist Rick Burchett does us the favor of designing and detailing the hell out of each entry.  I’ve seen Rick’s work before, but there’s something about the panels that definitely leaps off the page / screen; perhaps it’s truly just a labor of love.  Dialogue / characteristic stereotypes considered, part of the reason the characters still work is because Rick gives them weight.  You can see, clearly, how they carry themselves, and how we should ‘hear’ what they’re saying.  The over-size presentation in the book, and the quality paper stock, also allow the colors to shine, which are a pretty delightful blend of western browns with appropriate and notable splashes of metallic blues and grays.

And wrapping back around to the presentation… this is what you hope for when you buy into something like this.  Some aspects might be a little wonky – the pages are stitched (which is excellent) but the stitching sits pretty far away from the hardcover, letting the pages wobble a bit, and the dust jacket (which looks awesome, with its bright red background) fits pretty loosely, so if you’re holding it in your lap, open, the book feels flimsy.  But it’s not.  The hardcover is thick and solid, and the binding crease is perfect for the book to lay flat on any page, from start to finish.  Plus – the duffing extras.  A paper-doll cutout sheet, a freaking massive fold-out cross-section of one of the ships, several letters / ‘articles’ from characters in the story, a separate annotation book (which is totes awesome, as they post the printed script each week with the panels), and a third mini-book which I haven’t dug into yet which appears to be some world building stuff.  I’m just blown away by how much they packed into this, and it’s what gives me absolute faith that the story will continue to grow and become more and more badass and enriching.

So when the next Kickstarter book goes up, despite this three star review, have no doubt I’ll be pledging my money once again.

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