Reading Pile: Battle Chasers Anthology TP
It's been roughly 20 years since I've read any Battle Chasers, but with Madureira teasing that it will return one day I figure now is as good a time as any to see if the series has aged well. Now keep in mind I don't actually believe we'll see the new Battle Chasers within another year, but the fact that it even came up was kind of a miracle in itself. Considering it took roughly four years to get the original nine issues done (and some of that wasn't even drawn by Madureira), no one should ever hold their breath.
If you're unfamiliar, Battle Chasers was an arcanepunk fantasy title released back in 1998 as part of the Cliffhanger imprint at WildStorm. Along with J. Scott Campbell and Humberto Ramos, this was basically marketed as a new wave of Image indy creators launching their own books and was sort of a big deal at the time. It got a little muddy when Jim Lee sold WildStorm to DC, so Madureira would eventually fully bring the title over to Image. And just as a quick aside, I would like to point out that while J. Scott Campbell's Danger Girl also had a low output of issues per year, Humberto Ramos managed to publish twenty-five issues of Crimson within the same time frame between 1998-2001 and I'm pretty sure he was doing other work on the side. I'm not trying to shame Madureira or Campbell, but let's all just take a moment to appreciate the industry workhorse that is Humberto Ramos.
The main plot of Battle Chasers follows Gully, the young daughter of a famous hero. She's on the run from werewolf bounty hunters for various reasons until she stumbles across some unlikely allies. She's aided by Calibretto, a sentient mechanical war golem, and Knolan, a sassy old sorcerer, who both have a decent amount of hinted-to backstory elements to foreshadow some more worldbuilding over the course of the series. They also eventually meet up with the swordsman Garrison, the late '90's living embodiment of Berserk envy.
We also get Red Monika, the token fantasy warrior woman merged with your oversexualized bad girl and anime babe tropes. It's worth pointing her out simply because she was partially a mascot for the series and her sub-plots were going to eventually develop into the larger story arcs of the title. Maybe? Who knows.
It's never really clarified on who does what, but story credits go to both Madureira and Munier Sharrieff. I would wager Sharrieff was on scripting duties and they both plotted, with the general world building and story developments revolving on Madureira's design work. I say this because while the story isn't necessarily bad, the plotting is muddy and everything feels like it's just in service to the art. Which makes plenty of sense considering the period, and when you take that into account it's easy to forgive the overall end result.
Because at no point can I retain the various threads of what the King did and who Aramus was and what the ancient blah blahs of yakkity smakkity were up to and why we should care. Part of that is also because the elements that I do want to care about, like say the core group of villains that present the bulk of a conflict in this collection, are neatly designed but utterly devoid of solid character development and motivation.
After Red Monika performs a prison break and accidentally releases a handful of dangerous criminals, a tentpole sequence of the book is the group of our core heroes banding together to stop the villains from destroying the kingdom. We get characters like the evil monk Brass Demur, the pint sized wizard Cranium, and the demonic djinn Bulgrim all causing havoc. And hey, they all look great, but they simply show up to perform the barest of functions as a threat to be overcome and then are barely afterthoughts for the rest of the book.
So the story is kind of your bare bones fantasy world adventure, where things develop simply as a means to give us some simple conflicts, decent fights, and cool designs. And if you're in the mood for a popcorn adventure, then that's actually great. Every time the story tried to act as if it was developing deep sub-plots and political intrigue I kinda shut off a bit because in the end none of it ever mattered. That is, unfortunately, magnified by the fact that we know this story never really goes anywhere or ends as it was abandoned so early on.
I can't entirely blame Madureira either, as making the switch to video game design and development had to be a pretty safe career jump, even when you're a superstar comic creator. His character design work is where he truly shines as well, and if you can make some good money doing that for a living then hey more power to you. So let's talk a bit about the art.
Madureira's career started when he was 16 in 1990, his early art definitely influenced by Arthur Adams and slowly developing to incorporate a more manga infused style. In that eight year period you can see a huge leap in development in his work, and combined with Tom McSweeney's inks and colors from Liquid!, Christian Lightner, and Aron Lusen it's no wonder why he was such a big hit at the time. The art is bright and vibrant, the detail and pacing creates a kinetic atmosphere that never really lets up, and the armor designs, monsters, and weapons just all look cool. At no point does the book look boring, and that includes the guest artist sequences by Adam Warren which infuse some more visual comedy into the world.
One of the nice elements of this collection is that there's a generous bonus section full of sketches, covers, and more. And in many cases, I have to say I really like Joe Mad's sketch work more than his finished work because there's an extra level of texture and atmosphere present.
One of the larger faults in the art though is that at many times, and especially during fight scenes, backgrounds just disappear entirely to be replaced with a colorful void. I'm kinda 50/50 on this being too negative an aspect though, because A) it happens a lot in manga, and B) the coloring is often nice enough that you don't care.
Battle Chasers is a bit of a weird entity for me because at times it feels more like a stylistic time capsule than a piece of work. Its unfinished status has a big hand in that, but also the fact that I can't really attribute too many themes or clever writing to the story itself that make it matter in the context of a story worth reading. Because in the end it's about the art and it doesn't shy away from that. This collection captures an energy that influenced a generation of comic fans, and looking back at it it's hard to not give it credit for simply being a cool book that teenagers got super excited about back in 1998. There is a scene where they reveal that they will be flying on the back of mutated hammerhead sky-sharks, and that was entirely because Joe Mad thought it would look cool and had fun designing them. It is a creature of style, created to spotlight and celebrate style for the sake of being awesome. It doesn't try too hard to be much more than that, so I don't feel like I can come down on it too hard for its faults.
As far as the collection goes, it's a meaty 312 pages for just $24.99 so you can't really beat the value. As I said they tossed in a lot of design sketches, plus a huge cover gallery and pretty much every tiny bit of story they ever published. This includes a short snippet from the Frank Frazetta Fantasy Illustrated Magazine that nobody remembers existed, and while it probably wasn't too difficult for them to get that in here I do appreciate the thoroughness.
If you're looking for nostalgic throwback to the '90's and want a fun fantasy centric adventure, this is a solid package. It's not too deep of a read but that's not why you're here anyway, so just keep that in mind as you absorb a bunch of hyper detailed video game like violence (and yes, there is a Battle Chasers video game).