It’s easy to forget that there have almost always been super heroic alternatives to the universes of DC and Marvel, whether that was the Golden Age Captain Marvel, the Charlton Heroes or Archie Comics’ stabs at the genre. One of the most fondly remembered, if perpetually struggling, examples were Gold Key Comics’ roster of suers-hero and adventure titles. Now, those properties are licensed to Dynamite Entertainment, and the publisher is currently making a big push to craft a bold and original line of reimagined classics to compete with second-tier successes at Valiant and Image, and even aiming to take a swipe at the big two publishers. And based on The Sovereigns #1, there’s more than enough action, intrigue and captivating characters to draw in any fan of big concept super heroics looking to jump into a new universe.
The Sovereigns #1 brings together Gold Key’s most iconic characters into one epic storyline. Magnus, Robot Fighter, receives word that King Turok of the Lost Valley is in grave danger, and he sets about contacting his former allies the wizard Doctor Spektor and cosmic being Solar to seek their help in determining what exactly happened to old friend. Meanwhile, in the far future, post-apocalyptic warrior Samson crosses a treacherous wasteland on a mission that looks to be related to the peril facing Turok in the past.
Dynamite launched their attempt to create their own super-hero universe with a zero issue of The Sovereigns that was released a month or so back. The Sovereigns #1 kicks the story off in earnest, though I would say that jumping onto this issue without reading the zero issue isn’t advisable. Luckily, that zero issue is only $.99 at ComiXology and Dynamite’s website, so picking it up won’t hurt your pocketbook. Having said that, writer Ray Fawkes and artist Johnny Desjardins create a mysterious, dense and atmospheric issue here, crafting a sense of dread and foreboding that has an epic feel from the get-go. The team is to be congratulated for not going small in any way, but rather treating these characters and concepts with as much heft and scope as possible.
I will say that the density of The Sovereigns #1 could be a stumbling block to some new readers. If you have only passing knowledge of these characters, or none at all, the story won’t really make their worlds all that much clearer. Fawkes doesn’t try to avoid the fact that these characters are all pretty weird in their way, and while new readers may find gaps in their knowledge, it doesn’t really impact the enjoyment of the overall narrative. It’s a hard thing to explain, but there’s a difference between reading a story that has things yet to reveal vs reading a story that is just confusing. It has to do with specificity and the confidence coming from the team. This issue never feels as if Fawkes and Desjardins don’t have complete control and plans for what’s happening, and if that means I’ll have to slowly learn more about Samson and his world, or what Magnus’ specific role is in the world, then I’m willing to relax and have faith. And this approach allows for the world to feel both mysterious and strange and fresh.
The art by Desjardins is appropriately epic in scale and in tone, effectively capturing the feel of a big super-hero event even as it doesn’t eschew the weirdness of this universe. It captures a classic super-hero tone without ever forgetting this is a modern take on the characters and their worlds. To me, his work feels like a mash-up of David Finch and the work of classic Vertigo artists, meaning the issue feels darker and more dangerous than your average super-hero story.
The main story of The Sovereigns #1 ends on a pretty solid cliffhanger, and I could easily see myself taking this book on as a new hero universe. The characters are interesting, and the central plot is intriguing, even though not much at all is revealed about what’s going on.
The issue closes with a back-up story starring Magnus by the creative team of the character’s upcoming series, writer Kyle Higgins and artist Jorge Fornes. Things here maybe get a little too weird, frankly. Not the story itself, which is straightforward and well-executed. But the Magnus story, and by extension the upcoming series, takes a pretty different approach to the character and concept than the Magnus we see in The Sovereigns #1‘s main story, and this isn’t explained at all, forcing the reader to wonder if this is the same character, setting or universe from the main story. I liked what I read, and the Magnus series could wind up being fun, but it was at this point kind of baffling to try and piece the two stories together, and left wondering if they are supposed to be connected at all, and if so, how?
All in all, I really enjoyed The Sovereigns #1. If you’re someone who feel that the more established super-hero universes out there are too deep into continuity to be accessible, then I could see this series serving as an appealing jumping-on point. But the approach taken by the creative teams have the benefit of making this new universe feel rich and complex, so that it already has a lived-in feel. If the series can continue to be this confident and well-crafted, I see no reason why it shouldn’t attract its own fan-base in no time. 8/10