Roman Ritual (#1 – 4) – El Torres

4 out of 5

As most of the comic reading I’ve done that has religion as a focus – and primarily talking about Garth Ennis – is generally outright critical, taking the key concepts to task and not hesitating to go after the power and sex conspiracies that seem all too common, it was interesting to read something that seemed to treat the topic more reverently but without preaching.  El Torres’ work through his Amigo Comics imprint still has some translation hiccups, where the dialogue doesn’t quite feel natural, but new editor Sandra Molina has definitely smoothed this out quite a bit, and Torres’ story-writing chops continue to shine through.  ‘Roman Ritual’ is a possession / exorcism tale, in a world where the characters are aware that movies like Exorcist and Evil Dead exist, and the four issue mini is quite the master lesson in effectively building up character and story.  El Torres sets a reflective tone with the POV of exiled priest John Brennan – who smokes, who swears, who wears baseball caps – letting actions speak for his character rather than OD’ing us with backstory.  Brennan is called to the Vatican as a specialist to deal with an ordeal that makes for quite the shock in the final pages of the first issue.  But again, instead of just digging deeper into shock, Torres maneuvers into an actual story, and while some of the details of how things came to be aren’t, perhaps, too surprising, due to the fore-mentioned reverence, the series avoids sensation.  This is more Brennan’s story, facing his own personal demons, whilst dealing with a major infestation at the same time.  Late in the game Torres employs a questionable narrative switch to the demon’s POV, somewhat without reason except to tie in some themes, but otherwise the story is well rounded and effective in building both dread and tension, Torres’ admitted research into the subject matter absolutely apparent via the rather grounded presentation of the exorcism process.

The art, from Jaime Martínez, really does capture reactions well, and character close-ups give us a ton of individualized personality.  But the sketchy style loses definition from afar, making some panels questionable as to who’s who.  Thankfully, the cast is small and the dialogue carefully chosen such that it’s never difficult to discern what’s going on and thus the art doesn’t really slow down the read.  Excepting where realistic settings are used and Jaime gives us visual cues to set the scene, he seems to leave the backgrounds fairly loose, or with one set piece, but Sandra, doubling on colors, gives each panel and page an effective tone – warm, cold, sickly – with organic water-paintery blends that help fill up any empty space.

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