Comics Review: ‘Sovereign’ collection suffers from bad pacing, but shows brief brilliance
Plot remains unresolved three years later, no signs of conclusion coming soon
When I started my Comic Bento subscription last month, I wasn’t sure what to expect, exactly. The theme for July was “Old School” and I first thought that meant I’d be receiving comics from long ago featuring Superman, Batman and maybe Captain America too. Comic Bento, for those unfamiliar, is a subscription-based service that mails people between four or five graphic novel collections per month. It’s a great deal and if you’re a fan of getting comics in the mail, they’re at the top of the class.
I’m not sure how “Sovereign,” a comic series created in 2014 constitutes as “Old School,” but, whatever, that’s not the point of this review.
“Sovereign” was put out by Image Comics in five installments, put together in one bound collection later on three years ago with the same title. Seeing as it’s not a familiar comic, perhaps naming the bound collection with all five issues something else may have made more sense, but, it is what it is.
The story starts with three unknown entities all going someplace, although we’re not sure where until well into the middle of the book. The art style is a bit, let’s say unconventional, but it works well in matching up the feel of the text with the mood the art creates, for the most part.
There are a few pages where you can’t help but wonder if the artist meant to make the vultures’ necks look like penises, or if it was accidental. The similarity is striking though. I saw another reviewer call them “tube socks” but that to me was just a PG way of saying that they looked like dicks. That actually kept me from reading the rest of the text for a few days as I thought I wasn’t all that interested in reading thinly-veiled superhero smut.
However, after glancing through the rest of the book, I discovered that it only happened on those few pages. Maybe it’s just my dirty mind playing tricks on me, but I don’t usually visualize dicks in art pieces unless they’re immediately noticeable, and here they were.
Anyhow though, back to the story.
The official rundown of the plot says that it’s, “…a story of masked undertakers facing the undead with swords, of civil wars and cultures in collision, of ancient threats emerging from the ashes of history to menace the future.”
That’s a good brief overview, and without spoiling the plot too much, I’ll add that there is a “dead folks come back to kill the living” aspect, although it’s done in a way not to make it seem like just another typical zombie romp.
The characters also all have different abilities based on the caste system they belong to. So, for instance, nobility have the ability to conjure lightning, and merchants have the ability to lift things in the air much like a Jedi using the force.
One of the major problems with this, though, is that these powers really aren’t used in any kind of substantial way, other than to introduce them as things that exist.
Most comics set up a backstory and then we see the hero using his or her superpower shortly thereafter to fight the antagonists. We sort of get that here, but it comes at the very end of the book.
I did like the idea that these powers within certain people were all dormant until the “convergence” and that different dominant species on the planet have had convergences before but all were killed off for various reasons.
There’s also a cool side story that involves three brothers fighting over who’s to become the next ruler, although it’s a plotline that remains unresolved at the end of the fifth installment, something I think signals that they were hoping to resolve later on, but, whether we get that resolution or not is anyone’s guess.
That’s because apparently the writer, Chris Roberson, and the artist, Paul Maybury, got involved in different projects shortly after “Sovereign” came out and there hasn’t been any movement toward new books three years later.
Which in a way is too bad because I did like the scope of the world, and that anyone could have these superpowers hidden within them without their prior knowledge. The downside of that is that there wasn’t really any long-lasting character development. There were a few people we followed and came back to later on, but they seemed to be merely along for the ride toward the main conflict where the daemons arise and all three groups join together to find how they’re involved in the conflict. It’s something I felt could have come much sooner in the story, and there would have been more time to set up their roles after that main plot point. Plus, there’s the fact that I don’t really remember any of the characters’ names despite the fact I finished reading the book just a day ago.
From what I gathered, one chapter focuses on Luminari, freaks in this culture whose job it is to dispose of the dead. There’s the heirs to the throne of Khend, whom I mentioned earlier, and a diplomatic envoy traveling to Khend from Ableund led by a lord or a noble of some kind who comes across as spoiled, constantly saying “I expected more here, I don’t see much that impresses me.”
That is, of course, until he starts seeing the hints of people using their powers on his way to meet the heirs.
Toward the end of the book, we’re introduced to a new character after setting up the meat of the conflict involving the three groups in Khend. This character is a woman being sold by slavers who prays for a way out of her, and her other captured women’s, predicament.
It feels a little strange in that it creates an entirely new conflict and resolves it a few pages later, in a way that’s tangentially connected to the previous characters. That being said, the final act of this story is probably the most beautifully drawn and colored. Even though it was a side plot that did not appear that important to the main protagonists, although it could have perhaps later have come into play more, I found it entertaining because at least something exciting was happening.
Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that the main woman slave discovers her powers in a spectacular way that shows Roberson and Maybury understand how to make dynamic-looking and feeling stories that can let action come up naturally and quickly.
That, I think, really gets at the main problem this story has.
The pacing is dreadful.
A good story doesn’t need action on every page, but when we’re not involved in the excitement, we need compelling reasons to lead up to the action, be that backstory or plot twists or character development. Something that makes us want to see what happens next. I’d say here for the first oh, six pages or so, I had no real reason to keep turning except for the fact I wanted to read it to completion.
Also, it’s kind of disappointing that these stories may never have a conclusion due to possible creative differences, but mostly due to the fact that the creators don’t seem to be in any hurry to revisit this universe.
For what it is, though, if you’re willing to be patient and get past some of the issues, if you’re like me, you’ll get some thrills while reading this tale in spite of the flaws that detract somewhat from the strong areas.