Pullbox Reviews Commander Rao- Blending character & action into a dystopian sci fi one-shot

Set in a sci-fi future after a decade of warfare against the despot Baron Klaus, a rogue, embittered soldier decides to storm the Baron’s manor and kill him herself. A year later, stories are sung of her heroism, but the mystery of her motives remain.

Thus begins the tale of COMMANDER RAO, a thrilling, fast-paced action comic of how violence begets violence and how all the heroics of warfare are meaningless in the light of what has been lost.

“Born Kasey Elizabeth Cormack and once a decorated captain of the Resistance Army, she became best known as the cutthroat rogue soldier, Commander Rao.”

The story of Commander Rao, mysterious scourge of the space ways and enemy to tyrants, approached the status of myth. A figure of mystery representing the best of, yet deliberately separated from, the Resistance against Baron Klaus, Rao was driven by motives left unsatisfied by the constraints of an organized military. It wasn’t until she broke away that Rao was able to bring the war to its final act.

As a stand-alone action piece, Commander Rao would have worked. As a layered character study highlighting the personal cost of violence and vendetta, it would have worked. For a concept piece that began as an 8-page comic meant to be nothing more than practice in laying out and illustrating an elaborate fight scene, Commander Rao evolved into something else entirely. The character of Rao stuck in creator/writer/artist Fell Hound’s craw, developing well beyond her early designs as a heavily armored human tank.

It’s a pretty happy day when you come across the unicorn that is a creator handling the process from concept to script to illustration. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it brings someone one step closer to qualifying for sainthood. A writing/artistic team working well together is great, but even in the closest of collaborations there can be a degree of disconnect between script & pictures. Fell Hound (gotta say, she’s edging her way to my “coolest name ever” award… if in fact I actually had the kind of pull to make that award happen) neatly sidesteps the issue by holding onto her idea and carrying it along from inception to completion.

Without a doubt, Commander Rao is visually driven. Fell Hound approached her original story with the idea of an action scene being one continuous sequence flowing across the pages. I’d like to report that regard, the finished product is a success! Fell Hound has a great handle on design when it comes to choreographing action. There are great examples of how opening up traditional panel arrangements and using different angles to help show motion. Paired with awesome use of blur effects and an obvious love for the anime that was one of her influences in the story, Fell Hound’s out of control “practice” piece is a hit.

Sure, it sounds great talking about a comic book that’s all action from start to finish… nothing but pages full of the bombastic violence that you might find in a direct to video 90’s action movie (or just about any current Michael Bay flick). But at some point someone’s going to have to write something… anything… on the page for it to make any sense. Without exaggerating, this is where I was most impressed with Commander Rao as Fell Hound hit a tone in Rao’s inner monologue that reminded me of old letters home written by Civil War soldiers. Considering its origin as an experiment in illustration, the depth that Fell Hound went to with the character of Rao takes the book to another level. Her history, some shown in flashbacks and some left open to the reader’s imagination, shines a spotlight on the long term effects of war… not in the grand scheme of things but in the closer pain of personal loss. That’s the touch that bumps this one up a couple notches, from a pure action comic to a more character driven piece that just happens to have action in it.

I’d be totally slacking if I didn’t give a shout out to LetterSquids for bringing Fell Hound’s script to the page. In an industry where lettering is often overlooked, in no small part because the nature of the letter’s job is to go unnoticed, it’s a big deal to acknowledge when it’s done well. Much of Rao’s final story could have been and is told without a lot of dialogue, but now and again words matter. When they do, having them splashed all across what’s happening in the panel is an epic fail. LetterSquid gets it and makes sure that doesn’t happen, and does it with style that sets various speakers apart without interfering.

My biggest regret is that this is a one-shot, because it would be great to take deeper dive into this “dystopian sci fi” world Fell Hound has created. There’s a lot of story to tell about Commander Rao and her personal war, the in between times from her leaving the Resistance military to her final stand against the Baron. The 5 page bonus story, End of the Line beautifully illustrated by Jeremy Simser, is just a drop in that very huge bucket, only serving to whet the appetite for more. With this blend of character & action-driven story, possibilities abound for fans of military sci fi and anime inspired action.

Final Score: 10/13

From the bonus story, illustrated by Jeremy Simser
Bonus art, inspired by Commander Rao

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