Thursday, February 08, 2007

Athena Voltaire: The Collected Webcomics

Paul Daly & Steve Bryant

Before Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon, Athena Voltaire starred in her own comic strip on-line that appeared more or less weekly at www.athenavoltaire.com. Garnering plenty of critical acclaim and nominated for an Eisner Award, the strip eventually caught the attention of publishers excited to print new material from the creators (Speakeasy, followed by Ape Entertainment) and the rest is history. Athena Voltaire emulates a 1930's adventure strip, and stars an aviatrix who has a knack for finding trouble. The two stories included in this collection, The Terror in Tibet and The Wrath From the Tomb, are the earliest adventures of the title character, introducing readers to Athena's world and vast cast of supporting characters. As her earliest adventures, the art from Steve Bryant isn't up to the standards of the gorgeous work that appears in Flight of the Falcon, but there are glimmers of greatness here and there amid artwork that's overall much better than most found in mainstream comics nowadays. As a weekly strip, this reprint project had some problems, first and foremost was how Ape chose to publish this collection in print form, like a standard trade paperback instead of in a way more fitting for a strip format like recently seen with The Complete Peanuts or The Complete Chester Gould's Dick Tracy collections. To read the material, one must hold the book sideways and awkwardly flip the story up and over like a calendar. Though you get used to handling the book in this fashion, it's not the preferred method. Surprisingly, the stories didn't read like most comic strips. There was a little repetition between strips to keep them self-contained, but nothing too distracting - they read pretty fluidly as complete stories. The later story featuring Dracula's daughter contained the better art, as you could see Bryant developing his craft as the collection progressed, but that's to be expected. Both of the stories possessed supernatural elements that didn't quite showcase Athena's talents to the degree that Flight of the Falcon did, but were very good stories nonetheless. Riveting, action-packed and just plain fun. The witty dialogue that made Flight of the Falcon such a treat is present in the early work as well, but perhaps isn't as sharp as readers are used to. This is definitely something fans of the series and character should own, but perhaps a better introduction to Daly and Bryant's world would be Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon. Still, this deserves recognition as a great comic, and it couldn't have worked much better as an adventure strip. B+

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