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Andrea Mutti

Rome West

On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the Pilgrim’s feast of 1621 for the year’s harvest and for their partnership with the Native Americans. Although this holiday smacks of colonialism, white supremacy and is historically inaccurate, let’s just imagine if America was “discovered” in 323 AD by the Romans and our timeline was radically changed.

Brian Wood, a favored author of mine (although he is currently mired in some sexual harassment controversy), along with co-author Justin Giampaoli, takes the trope of an alternate timeline and tries to breathe some new life into it. Told in eleven vignettes, the only thread is that all the characters are descended from the Valerius family originally from Rome.

323 AD Manahatta (NYC): Several Roman galley ships are pushed off course when a violent storm strands them in the Hudson River Valley area of modern-day New York. Legionnaire Lucan Valerius, who has a gift for learning languages, takes command when the Captain is washed overboard. When the Lenape tribe greets the bedraggled soldiers there is a small skirmish, but Lucan understands that diplomacy is the key to their survival, and this first contact leads to the first of future alliances with the Native Americans of the region. Each side believes their deal is the better of the two.

847 The City of Val Seneca (Rochester, NY): A 500-year jump is excessive, as we are led to believe that the descendants of a ragtag group of less than 100 Roman soldiers have remained a central force in government, and have retained the language and customs of their ancestors. As the only Roman men were soldiers, the only way they continued their bloodline was through intermarriage with the local tribes. So I find it incredibly unlikely that the Valerius family looks so white, and that Roman traditions are so prized.

990 The Outpost of Roma Dorsetus (Newfoundland): The Vikings discover an outpost in Vinland and the soldiers there put up an epic fight.

1492 Concordia (Caribbean Islands): Columbus lands and finds an advanced civilization speaking Latin already there. Shocked, he shares that the original Roman empire fell years ago, and makes reference to Jesus Christ, which seems to be news to the island leader. This seems off, as the original soldiers from Rome would have heard of Christ back in 323 AD, so this conversation seems disingenuous.

1503 Roma Auster (Norfolk, VA): In the eleven years since Columbus landed and his ships were seized, the Valerius family studied the European technology onboard, and are now weapon makers themselves. Alliances and wars with certain tribes are mentioned.

1545 Lepido (Panama): The Panama Canel is being constructed already? And Rome West is at war with the Aztecs? Alrighty then.

1869 Sioux Colonia (Davenport, Iowa): Now a Valerius heir is taking a leisurely transcontinental train around the nation and she thinks about the history of the nation, that has some parallels with our world. She meets a storyteller- obviously, Mark Twain is in any timeline!

1939 The Port of Barentsland (San Francisco, CA): A mass murderer is on the loose, seeming to target those with Roman bloodlines. The police struggle to solve these hate crimes.

1941 Washoe Colony (Lake Tahoe, CA): Love story with a bit of commentary on the Valerius family branch that the new bride belongs to. A sweet tale, but it didn’t fit with the other stories.

1979 Rome West, Capital City (NYC): James Bond is a Valerius!

1989 Roma Bareas (Portsmouth, NH): A college student faces extreme prejudice as public opinion has turned against the Valerius family and she is being judged for what her family has done centuries before. I actually wished this story was longer, for it had some biting commentary about cancel culture and paying for the sins of the past.

I am a fan of artist Andrea Mutti’s sketchy work, who has collaborated with Wood before. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with earthen tone coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. All the pages are divided into quadrants with some smaller panels within, there is no elaborate splash pages or large panels, but these workmanlike configurations match the tone of the story.

Overall, this story disappoints. The two authors take what Wood has done well in the past- detailing the rise and fall of a family over the years (Northlanders- Icelandic Trilogy), vignettes with characters studies (Rebels), and mixes it with social commentary (Briggs Land) but it doesn’t quite gel in this story. There are too many leaps of logic with too much time between earlier stories, and then there are too many clustered at the end. This graphic novel should have had more entries, and perhaps then it would have fleshed out into a more cohesive narrative, and become what the authors were aiming for but missed.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May your choices today make your family proud in the future.

-Nancy

Wood, Brian, Justin Giampaoli, Andrea Mutti. Rome West. 2018.

Rebels: These Free and Independent States

I am having a love affair with Brian Wood this year! Having discovered Briggs Land last year, this year I have devoured it’s sequel Lone Wolves, volumes one-three of his Viking saga Northlanders, the first Rebels about the Revolutionary War, and now this companion piece about the War of 1812.

In the first volume A Well Regulated Militia, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war. This second historical fiction graphic novel follows suit.

These Free and Independent States

In this continuation, we revisit Vermont to find that Seth’s son John is a boat-making savant. Spanning the years from 1786 to 1816, John comes to age as the new nation faces several threats and a new Navy is commissioned. John’s parents discover he has a fascination and an aptitude for building ships. Nowadays we might call these traits autism, but despite having no name for it, Seth and Mercy recognize his gifts and apprentice him to a master ship builder out of Boston. His careful work is integral when building the USS Constitution, which was later nicknamed Old Ironsides during the War of 1812. His work is so all consuming he is oblivious to Alice, a young woman he has known since childhood, who has taken a fancy to him. When the ship goes to sea he signs up to be a soldier on it, just so he can remain on the ship he has claimed as his own. His obsession proves to be his downfall, but luckily he has some allies who remain dedicated to him. The story ends with an improbable conclusion.

Image result for rebels these free and independent statesThe Virginian

A short story about George Washington when he was a Lieutenant Colonel and his actions in the Ohio River Valley in 1753. This portrayal shows him an an impulsive young soldier, who was worried about how he would be depicted, and how he was not always a man of his word. This representation certainly does not show him in a good light, as his foolhardy actions don’t match his later reputation as one of our founding fathers and the nation’s first president.

Brooklyn Heights

An orphaned brother and sister cling to their New York homestead from 1777-1783. These two plucky siblings discover a secret stash of gold that the British lost and offer it to the leaders at Valley Forge.The ending with it’s time jump defied logic. I wanted to like this story but couldn’t.

The Green Mountain Boys

Captain Ethan Allen gets the spotlight in this last short story. In 1775 he petitions the Continental Congress for recognition and funds for the soldiers he leads.  But the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga proved the Green Mountain Boys were worth every penny that the government reluctantly gave them.

The artwork throughout the entire novel is strong, although you can tell different artists are utilized in the last two stories. The drawing is sketchy, with a light green and yellow color palette. You can tell much research went into the panels to depict colonial life with impressive details of the ships in the first story. This is yet another example of the excellent historical work that I have come to expect from Wood and his team of artists.  I will absolutely pick up whatever he puts out next in any of the series I mentioned in this post!

-Nancy

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Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

“A historical epic of America’s founding” is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel with it’s window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s.

Divided into six chapters, author Brian Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war.

A Well-Regulated Militia

We first meet Seth in 1768 as a boy with a gruff father in the New Hampshire (later to become Vermont) wilderness, eking out a homestead.  English soldiers in the region are hated by the settlers, who are there under the New Hampshire grants.  Skipping ahead to 1775, seventeen year old Seth marries teen-aged Mercy after her father is forced off his land by the redcoats. The young couple establish their own household, but local Ethan Allen easily convinces him to join his militia regiment. At first fighting for their region’s independence, he then is willing to fight for the entire colonies’ independence. He ends up being away from his wife for seven years, and while certainly in danger during battles, Seth views his time with the militia as a grand adventure with his best friend Ezekiel, a fellow soldier. In 1783 Seth finally comes home to Mercy discovering a son, as he had been unaware his wife was pregnant when he left.

This narrative was a fascinating look into an average farmer’s life and the threats they faced from the British and the local Loyalists. The battles that Seth participated in and the living conditions of the soldiers were shown in detail, and you could feel the backbreaking labor and fear they lived with. It also showed a nuanced view of the women left behind, as Mercy suffered just as much while being forced to fend for herself in an unforgiving wilderness.

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Goodwife, Follower, Patriot, Republican

Ever hear of the iconic folklore story of Molly Pitcher who stepped into battle to keep the canon shooting when her husband was shot? This story focuses on fictional Sarah Hull who in 1777 was the Battle of Saratoga’s “Molly Pitcher”. In later years her dying husband makes a plea for the government to give her a soldier’s pension for the work she provided. How her effort is disregarded by the representatives ties in with how sometimes women of today are also treated with indifference for their invaluable contributions.

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Liberty’s Daughter

Silence Bright, a young woman of mixed race, is caught printing and distributing leaflets in Boston that criticize the British in 1768. Thrown into Newgate Prison she is unbowed and the awesome quotes that I shall take to heart- “beware the bookish woman” and “hold fast” are used as she defiantly refuses to submit.

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Occupation

In 1775 we are given a brief glimpse of Seth Abbott again in NYC as he holed up in an attic with free black Clayton Freeman. Seth can not understand why Clayton is a Loyalist, and fighting for a corrupt regime for he tries to convince Clayton that he should be fighting for the freedom of the colonies. What he doesn’t understand is that “freedom” will not come for all, and that many blacks made the hard choice of fighting for the Crown that promised them freedom and passage away from the colonies. This vignette made me think of our current president, especially with the quote “…how were the lies of King George (Trump) at all appealing? Was there something we were missing?”

Stone Hoof

A young Shawnee brave, Stone Hoof, helps soldiers build Fort Stalwart in the Ohio River Valley in 1750 and befriends Will Henderson. As his tribe are migrants, he is in and out of the region over the years until 1757 when his tribe attacks the fort, as they have aligned with the French who are fighting the British for this territory.  As both he and Henderson survive the battle, they meet for one last time, and each try to understand why the other believes what they do.

Image result for rebels brian wood stone hoof

 

Bloody Backs

In 1769 a young man in a London is given a choice- go to prison or head to the colonies as a British soldier. He clings to his idealism and loyalty to the Crown as he miserably slogs  through battle after battle. He meets an ignoble end by a Green Mountain Boy at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, never having achieved a rank higher than a lowly private, and for what- glory?

Image result for rebels brian wood bloody backs

The artwork throughout all the stories is superb. Several artists contributed to the six stories, and all convey an authentic feel to this era and region. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. I want to give a special shout out to artist Tula Lotay, who created each chapter’s cover art. Each page she creates is a beautiful homage to the coming story. In addition the extras at the end give some insight to the making of the book with some great essays by the author and some of the artists.

With this book, plus his outstanding Briggs Land,  Wood has vaulted onto the list of my top ten favorite authors of graphic novels! I will absolutely be checking out Wood’s Viking saga Northlanders and will pick up all future work in this series.

-Nancy

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