Golden Campaign Volume II
Art & story by Cristian Ortiz, co-writer Daniel Martin, calligraphy Alice Mazzilli
I reviewed Golden Campaign volume I way back in Jan ’13, mostly based on Martin Eden (Spandex) picking it in his best of year post, describing it as “a cross between Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkonkinkreet etc) and James Jean – it’s really imaginative and impressive“.
And yes, Golden Campaign was well worth looking at. Visually it was, indeed still is, very impressive, sitting on that intriguing line between raw and fluidly loose, something of Gipi, bit of Brandon Graham perhaps, you can see what I mean in the examples littering the review.
The problem then and sadly a problem exacerbated by this second volume is the storytelling just isn’t holding up to the epic saga Ortiz is looking to tell.
Think Game Of Thrones with a Manga, steampunk-y twist, impressively large mecha tech mixed with ancient medieval cities, steampunk weaponry and very nasty swords everywhere, rhino riding warriors, tattooed mercenary forces, ancient royal lineages and technological keys controlling nations of the Empire. A fantasy mashup land that’s just visually popping with ideas.
We’re back with our rookie soldier boy, introduced last volume, initially wanting to play music for a little coin, sucked into something nasty and bloody, and now he’s past the romantic ideals of war, feeling very, very scared, just another lamb to the slaughter in the Key Lord Empire’s war against the mechs, another rookie seen as cannon fodder by the vets at the front.
We open this volume with the mysterious hammer-wielding trouble bringer with the white streak and his silent female companion who we saw briefly last volume. Still no idea who these people are, but you can tell by the dead bodies and the destruction in the bar that they’re dangerous and deadly, and they’re on a collision course with some major players of the Key-Lords ruling class.
Following this enigmatic three-pager, we’re into the depths of battle, on the front line as the Key-Lords army finds itself increasingly stretched, the supporting forces of tattooed mercenaries and the elite KK troops spread across too many fronts, the army having to rely far too much on a rookie force of young men new to battle.
Things are slowly coalescing into a plot here, with Key-Lord Isenbergh revealed as both the man our grey-streaked murderer is looking for, and the man for whom KK leader Azul has just expended a great deal of rookie blood to rescue a very mysterious and very important cargo.
In doing so, Azul’s left himself and his troops exposed, mechs coming their way, rookie soldiers already spooked and scared, not yet battle hardened. And all the while, the red Cruzianas bloom, a little touch halfway through the book that illustrates all that’s so good, yet so frustrating about Ortiz. Cruzianas, it’s explained are a particular and peculiar flower, needing “a perfect mix of rotten flesh and minerals to grow“, a flower to mark the dead, and this flower is everywhere the rookies look. He can write this sort of romantic allusion into Golden Campaign so well, but it’s overwhelmed by the clutter of the plot.
There’s simply too much thrown at the reader here, too many disorganised ideas to really work, Ortiz capable of flourishes of spectcular visual storytelling sure, but great visuals alone don’t make great comics, and Ortiz falls down with plot that’s too unclear and mysterious for its own good coupled with dialogue that feels stilted, thrown in to explain away a particular moment, or added in to highlight a particularly cool visual flourish. I’m certain everything is crystal clear and simplicity itself in Ortiz’s thinking, but there’s not enough of that clarity making it onto the page.
I was hoping Ortiz would have worked through many of these problems with his storytelling by now, but sadly not. It’s incredibly frustrating as a reader, and a critic, to see something so close to being really good but just falling short. Visually impressive sure, but the proposed volumes III & IV are going to have to really work hard to pull all of the disparate and confused elements together.
I’ll end this on a positive note though, hopeful that Ortiz can pull out the stops and get Volume III to a state where he’s addressing my concerns. It could, should be so great, a little tweak, a touch here and there, that’s all it will take.