Roman Ritual vol. 2 (#1) – El Torres

3 out of 5

The first issue of the first volume of Roman Ritual ended with a possessed Pope. Combined with the moody, painted art of Jaime Martinez, and some willful but tasteful nipping from the Exorcist, it was a gripping lead-in to be what proved to be a great series. It’s also hard to beat that issue-ending hook.

I sense that this second volume could’ve built into something equally rewarding, especially due to not being reliant on such a baiting image – El Torres can expand on established characters and concepts without the punch of a cliffhanger, and trust his readers to continue to follow. Unfortunately, Amigo Comics went through another upheaval, and we’re left with only this one issue by which to judge the series, and it’s just not enough on its own. We get a very affecting setup, as nun / doctor Sister Claire walks us through her horrific past, and Martinez is back, with a seemingly more refined look that gives the series upfront confidence. This flashback is then immediately followed with violence in the present: a patient at the nursing home at which Claire works has suddenly become aggressive, and we see our Roman Ritual tell-tale signs of possession.

Here’s where it starts to get shaky, though, as Torres begins to bounce around a bit, giving Claire dreams of her past; news clips of a controversial Bishop visiting the area; further possessions; and cops – I think? – questioning the competence of Claire and her staff, leading up to the final page reveal of volume 1’s protagonist, Father Brennan, getting ready to jump into the fray. Yeah, that last bit is promising, for those of us who read his former adventure, but all the middle bits feel too clearly like setup, surely to be sharpened by followup issues that are likely never to be published. And unfortunately, Martinez’s changes fall down a bit as the issue goes on – they’re more clearly using photo reference for characters, and while the shadowed and stylized opening hid the stiffness of that, some pages suffer from the characters-over-emoting and general staticness that that method can sometimes cause. The colors add back a lot of feeling, thankfully.

Promising, if somewhat underwhelming taken on its own. Hopefully concluded, some day, in some form….