The British Are Coming — Again! “The Royals : Masters Of War” #1

Posted: February 19, 2014 in comics
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Is it just me, or has it been waaaaaaayyy too long since DC’s Vertigo imprint went trolling for fresh new talent on the other side of the Atlantic? In the early days of the line, of course, British creators were all the rage, from established luminaries like Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano,  and Garth Ennis to “one-and-done” types like John Smith, Gary Ushaw, and Nick Abadzis, the UK was the primary well tapped by the editors of the newly-minted “mature readers” range.

And then the trans-oceanic creativity pipeline just sort of seemed to dry up. It’s not that promising new writers and artists weren’t still coming on the scene in Britain, it’s just that Vertigo stopped looking in that direction, for whatever reason. Their London office, helmed by Art Young, folded up shop, and Vertigo seemed to zero in  on North American talent, in the main, for the next couple of decades.

I’m pleased to say that appears to be over, as the very promising new six-part mini-series The Royals : Masters Of War so ably demonstrates. Coming to us by way of the U.K.-based writer/artist team of Rob Williams and Simon Coleby, both of whom cut their creative teeth in the pages of the venerable 2000 A.D. weekly comic, this book hopefully marks the opening salvo in a new “British Invasion” that’s long overdue.

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Now, to be honest, I probably should find this series more immediately off-putting than I do, simply because I flat-out despise the monarchy. The American tabloid press seems even more obsessed with them than their British counterparts, and for the life of me I just can’t figure out why. The comings and goings of the vapid, idle super-rich don’t interest me in the least. The Windsors — and every other royal family — should have been stripped of their “birthright” and been forced to work for a living like the rest of us a long time ago, in my opinion,  but at least Williams and Coleby have chosen to focus their story on a novel new take on exactly why these folks enjoy such power and privilege — namely, they’ve all got super-powers, and us lowly “commoners” don’t.

Admittedly intriguing in a sort of “gosh, why didn’t I think of that?” way, this also provides a funky new twist on the notorious and thoroughly-well-documented practice of interbreeding and inbreeding that the world’s various royal lineages still adhere to,  because the “purer” the bloodline, the more powerful the heir-to-be will consequently end up being. It’s all pretty creepy and cool at the same time.

Williams drops us right into the action high above Berlin in 1945, with our ostensible “hero,” Prince Henry, about to jump into battle. As he surveys the devastation around him — brought to remarkable life by Coleby’s evocative pencils and inks which are more than ably abetted by J.D. Mettler’s amazingly sensitive and realistic color palette — he flashes back five years earlier to the moment he first decided to break the non-intervention pact that all the super-powered royals of the world had been living under. While London was being decimated by Hitler’s blitz, Henry’s older brother, Arthur, wandered through life shit-faced drunk and his father, King Albert, sat idly by doing nothing. It all apparently got to be a bit too much for our guy Henry to handle, and with the support of no one else in his family apart from his sister (and, it’s hinted, lover), Rose,  he  decided that enough was enough and chose to unilaterally break the truce.

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What happens next? Well, I guess that’s what the next five issues are for, but Williams does such a superb job setting the stage here that my curiosity to know more is definitely piqued. Apart from Henry, no one’s very “likable,” per se, which strikes me as a pretty realistic depiction of royalty in general, and it seems that typical “palace intrigue” bullshit will only be a small part of the world he and Coleby will be exploring here. We’ve seen “Point A” and the early stages of “Point B,” but how we go from one to the other is still entirely up in the air, and that’s a good thing because, hey, we all like comics that keep us guessing, right?

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So it appears what we have his is part alternative history, part World War II comic, part old-school Vertigo Brit book (albeit by a new generation of creators — apart from old pro Brian Bolland, who does a nice job with the first issue’s alternate cover) and part revisionist super-hero tale. If succeeding issues follow through on the promise shown in this debut chapter, then I’m definitely in it for the duration.

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