Pullbox Reviews: Arale – The Machinations of the Mad Monk himself…

1934- The First World War never ended. The Russian Revolution failed, and the Czar now reigns supreme over Russia. Grievously wounded during an attempt on his life, and entrusted to the care of Rasputin and his dark mages, the ruler lies deep in an endless coma. To revive his inanimate body, they conceive of a desperate mission: loyal war hero Kyril Noskov is hooked up to the Czar using a technology that allows him to enter the labyrinth inside the Czar’s mind. The outcome of this endless war depends on his success… or failure.

And again, Europe Comics dives into history to pull out a story that starts out looking like a thing, and then turns a corner and delivers something completely different. Taking the mystique of Rasputin, the Mad Monk himself, and the story of the Bolshevik Revolution, Arale starts us out with a title blending magic and steampunk. Then it adds Babba Yagga- the legendary witch of Russian folklore, not John Wick- and things start to really take off.

Tristan Roulot has crafted as fine a plot as I’ve ever read, giving no easy answers or neatly wrapped reveals until he’s good and ready to do so. Arale isn’t the kind of book that caters to the reader who wants one dimensional comics, but rather invests a bit of thought and research into its narrative. War hero Lieutenant Kyril Noskov has known combat at its most furious, but he’s in no way ready for the bizarre turn his life takes. This is where Roulot works his magic, warping historical events and turning them into something new, something that takes what’s known and twists it into a story steeped in mysticism, nationalism, and paranoia. And he does it all within the confines of a self-contained one shot, taking his reader through introduction, establishing his own crafted reality, and wrapping it all up in a satisfying conclusion in less than 70 pages.

Roulot didn’t do it alone. With the help of artist Denis Rodier and colorists Bruno Tatti & Clementine Guivarc’h, the world of Arale is made up of more than just pretty words. Which works out great, cuz… y’know… comicbook. Rodier does a great job of world building, based on Russia of the early/mid 1900’s but giving his own spin on things with the introduction of steampunk battle mechs, and warped dreamscapes. Also, and this is something that I’m noticing more and more while reading titles from Europe Comics, Rodier’s characters are all distinct and unique. No character design really resembles any other, and they all have the sense of their own history regardless of how much (or little) time they have on the page.

This dystopian world is given even more depth by the work of Tatti & Guivarc’h. The color palette at work here is one of grays and browns, only occasionally broken by a splash of green, red, or blue… and all of them maintain that muted tone you’d expect, given the time period being portrayed. In the Czar’s Russia, there’s no place for frivolities like bright colors. There’s a war to be fought for the glory of the Motherland and to honor the Immortal Czar. It all has a simple, utilitarian look to it that brings everything together into an authentic looking piece of work.

Anyone who hasn’t taken a look at the titles being offered by Europe Comics has shorted themselves. Everything I’ve seen has been solid, layered work… even the titles I haven’t personally cared for. It’s all done with a slightly different style from what we’re accustomed to here in the U.S. Maybe it’s coming from a history that goes back much farther than our own two and a half centuries, or maybe it’s stemming from the cultural differences. Either way, there are many, many titles to look through and choose from, with something for every taste.

Arale is one for fans of twisted history, layered in steampunk and mysticism, and populated with central characters who have a surprise or two hidden in their stories.

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