Friday, October 21, 2011

Review--Oddfellows Serenade #1

Recently, I was privileged to receive an advanced copy of occult author Bob Freeman and Chris Wilson's newest comic Oddfellows Serenade: Issue 1 (of 3). Firmly entrenched in Bob's larger Liber Monstrorum mythology, Oddfellows throws us right into the action as legendary occult detective Landon Connors is given a dire warning. Ghosts from his monster hunting past have returned and he must lay them to rest--and possibly die in the process. Chapter two of the first issue takes us to the beginning, where a younger Connors, distraught over his father's death at the hands of a demon, debates if he has the strength to continue in the legacy of sorcery and evil-fighting that has been handed him. Prompted by friend and mentor Sam Hill--who bears a loving resemblance to Fred Ward from To Cast a Deadly a Spell--he throws his lot in with the Nightstalkers, a ragtag band of occult experts and ghost hunters. While Landon certainly has the skills to aid them, will his own ties to the dark forces be their ruin?

To find that out, one will have to read the remaining two issues in the mini-series.

As with anything Bob writes, there's a lot to like about this issue. He has an uncanny knowledge of the real-life occult and it bleeds through in his work. When reading these characters, you don't get the feeling that the author is just regurgitating paranormal catchphrases cobbled from other works or movies. Bob has studied this stuff and his education in these dark mysteries informs his characters, making them feel believable, capable, and intelligent. While not afraid of action, these are very much "thinking man" heroes, battling the occult with their wit moreso than shotguns and explosives.

One of Bob's greatest strengths, however, might be considered a weakness to some. Bob has crafted a very intricate mythology in his writings with characters and events mixing it up throughout many different stories. I love this and have full faith that Bob is weaving a beautiful tapestry of the arcane--but it can be a little disorienting just jumping into it. Reading Oddfellows, I was pleased to see so many cameos of other characters featured in his previous writings. From the aforementioned Sam Hill, to Alethea, to Father Rainey, to Michelle Hawkes, to my own namesake Greg Mitchell (oh yeah, he's in there), it was a treat to put a face to the names of characters I've followed in other stories. I'm not sure Bob's mythology has an official "jumping on point" for new readers, though this is, perhaps, as close to one as I've seen. I suspect everyone discovers the mythology the same way--by jumping in with both feet. While he does a good job of telling you as much as you need to know to appreciate the story you're currently reading, it's only after reading his other stories will Readers be able to fully appreciate the various characters' motivations and histories. I wholeheartedly suggest that, if Oddfellows Serenade is your first foray into the mind of Bob Freeman--let it be but the beginning. Buy Liber Mysterivm or Descendant and discover more.

While I enjoyed this book, it's not perfect. It's an independent comic affair, so--while artist Chris Wilson does a good job--the art is not as polished as you would see in a Marvel or DC comic. Not very dynamic in the "action" sense, it can be a little stiff at times--though, given the everyman investigative nature of the characters, that's not neccessrily a detriment to the storytelling. It's just an aesthetic thing. Having said that, the team has treated the art with great care. For a black and white comic, it is shaded and layered beautifully, with cinematic lighting and special effects that really comes together to create a somber mood. They certainly make the most of what they have and it shows.

My only real "complaint" with this issue was the layout. In most of the pages, there is a style of "dual storytelling" going on. The narrative is shared between the dialogue and a Narrator's captions.

As usual, Bob writes some thoughtful and poetic prose, but here his thoughts are split up and scattered across the page, intermingled with important conversations between his characters. My mind had to switch back and forth, back and forth, while reading, sometimes confusing me. On the more difficult pages (and it's not every one) I avoided this problem by reading the captions first, then going back and reading through the dialogue portions. While that helped, it was still a bit jarring on the first read-through. Both his narration and his dialogue are spot-on--it's just the juxtaposition of the two that left me a little wanting.

In total, Oddfellows Serenade is a worthy first outing for Landon Connors in the comic book world. It is full of mystery, fun and familiar characters from Bob's larger mythology, and a promise for even more devilry in the future. If you're already a fan of Freeman's work, you have to pick this up--it's a great contribution to the stories you already know and love. If you've yet to read anything by Bob, give this a shot. It's a great basics course on the nature of his storytelling and characters and will whet your appetite to read more of the man's mythology.

Thanks to Bob for giving me a first peak at the book. I was disappointed to see this issue end and eagerly await the two remaining issues! In the meantime, I think I'm going to go back and read Issue One again :p

Oddfellows Serenade #1 is slated for a Halloween Day release. This is a LIMITED EDITION comic, signed by the author and artist. Order your copy today while they last!

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