(cover art to Roisin Dubh #1 by Stephen Byrne)
This comic comes loaded, baby. Filled with modern Chick Power, a dangerous mix of brilliance and style with a political reality lurking just under the surface.
One of the writers, Maura McHugh is a fairly well known blogger. She has been forthright about pointing out gender imbalances, amongst other insights, such as when a collection of interviews with horror writers published by the British Fantasy Society had not one woman included, or when Kapow! had over thirty announced guests and all were men, and the likes of The Guardian listen to and quote her.
So, as she is a woman who fights for fairness and does some pretty cool righteous in-your-face stuff, I was immediately worried about how this comic would pan out. As well you may know in comics, we have had these imbalance problems before and may always will, and last time I was massively enamoured with some outspoken truths, which cut across the industry, by Gail Simone (see here), I was subsequently bitterly disappointed when her actual comic work in Birds of Prey, a comic I should have really loved. It just missed the mark and didn’t match the brilliance I imagined she would possess. ( maybe you should read Secret Six – Ed)
(there’s something pleasingly reminiscent of Mignola in this lovely artwork from McHugh and Daly’s Róisín Dubh)
So as I approached this comic, I am already aware that I have my shoulder bag of thoughts with me.
McHugh is a multi-skilled writer, with quite a bit of dark fantasy and horror writing published and here with Roisin Dubh she must possibly draw on the Irish penchant for the gothic as shared by the likes of Maturin, Le Fanu and Stoker. Roisin Dubh is wonderful dark and gothic, and of course it draws on many elements that are more desirable to modern tastes.
Yes, that’s right, Roisin Dubh is an excellent character of strength and intelligence AND she kicks ass.
Set in 1899, the story begins as eighteen-year-old Roisin and her parents are travelling in the wild country in Ireland; discussion ranges from her desire to be an actress to how buying her a bike could have been irresponsible to the suffragettes, and then, Roisin and her family are attacked by a half dead monster o f Irish lore that has been buried for 1,400 years and now, released, is desired to be controlled by a gang of sinister scoundrels.
Despite Roisin’s valiant efforts, she is dispatched, but in the darkness somewhere between life and death she meets the Lord of The Underworld and the Crow of the Battlefield, and she learns of this creature, the Abhartach, a onetime Chieftain magician who was consumed with the desire of a higher status and became a ‘Dearg Diliant’, a blood drinker. The story of the Abhartach is told, and then the true horror that has befallen Roisin becomes clear, as now her parents are not at all dead, but rather they are enthralled to the beast.
Before she even can volunteer, she herself is given a drink that binds her to the Lord’s service, and he dispatches her back to the world armed with a sword of yew, with a magical cloak, a Celtic brooch that is a being of guidance, and the instruction that she must subdue the monster and release the souls in thrall to him.
It’s great stuff, drawing on wonderful Irish mythology and as a first issue, it’s intriguing and full of action, and introduces a potentially brilliant comic book character.
This is of course a team effort, and mention of Robert Curley, comic book shop owner as well as publisher is required. He genuinely has a mind of steel and flint that can spark ideas of brilliance, and he of course shares the germination of this comic, although it is McHughs’ scripting which brings it to fruition, and the amazingly good artwork that makes it all bloom.
There is a real feel of skill about the art by Stephen Daly. The artwork is clean and crisp despite its darkness. The fight scenes, always difficult to portray, are done very well, and lack messiness and clearly show the action. What really caught me was how panels portrayed the story so well, truly complementing and adding to the words, in that way that comic books can. An obvious occurrence was a sequence of three identical panels, showing very differing scene over time, the detail and changes, adding a heavy vividness to the words.
(mythological/supernatural bloody action in McHugh and Daly’s Róisín Dubh)
I wasn’t disappointed, obviously and feel that this comic, with its unique and richly thought out setting, yet excellent pace, calling on dark and mythical elements of lore in a way that of course enriches the legend, will find quite an interested readership.
This comic for me copper fastens the image that Atomic Diner are creating and producing high quality distinctive and intelligent works. Their upcoming Jennifer Wilde is described as ‘a super natural detective series set during the 1920’s beginning in France and quickly moving through London and then onto Dublin. It follows the adventures of Jennifer Wilde ( no relation but the daughter of Wilde’s secret lover when he moved to France after being released from prison in England ) and the ghost of Oscar himself as they unravel a trail of murder and mystery.’ With League of Volunteers issue 2 due in a short while, and tempting images of Jennifer Wilde on the wire, Atomic Diner continues to prove that it can come up with gems.