The Red Star, Vol. 1: The Battle of Kar Dathra's Gate, a Graphic Novel written by Christian Gossett and Brad Kayl. Created and penciled by Christian Gossett
List Price: $24.95 Trade Paperback (April 2001)
3-D Artist: A.D. Coulter. Colorist-Composites: Snakebite. 3-D Models: Jon Moberly / Web Site: www.imagecomics.com
Review by Amy Harlib
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Veteran graphic artist/storyteller Christian Gossett managed to assemble an exceptional team of co-creators to bring his cherished dream project to life in the series The Red Star. The first 4 episodes, collected in an extra-large, trade paperback, comprise the story of 'The Battle of Kar Dathra's Gate', a saga unique in the annals of comic book history and destined to become a classic for its highly successful pioneering use of CGI and 3-D modeling (akin to that used in popular video games and animated features), blended with more traditional penciling techniques to produce dazzling results.

The plot also breaks new ground in its use of thoroughly researched historical background (bibliography included!), to tell an epic, allegorical, complex tale of a parallel universe Soviet Union where all its mighty magic mixed with high-tech science cannot prevent decay, corruption and disillusion.

Eschewing the trendy influence of Japanese manga or time-worn superhero clichés, The Red Star depicts the United Republics of the Red Star, (U.R.R.S), demoralized after the killing of millions in the War against their southern, neighboring country of Al' Istaan, a tragedy caused by the insanity of their leader, the powerful sorcerer Imbohl whose desires to forge his own immortality crushed his people's utopian dreams. At the eponymous battle of Kar Dathra's Gate (the most sacred site of the opposing Nistaani people), a small group of heroes, haunted by the ghosts of their nation's tragic past, discover the true nature of their countrymen's struggle and abandon their duties as soldiers of the Red Fleet to begin their own revolution, seeking to revive their nation in opposition to Imbohl's dark legacy. Against this momentous background, an emotionally gripping, character-driven story unfolds focusing on Maya Antares, Warkaster of the Red Fleet, Sorceress Major, who, in the opening of the graphic novel, can be seen visiting the grave of her husband Marcus Antares, Infantry Captain of the Red Fleet, presumed killed during the above-mentioned military disaster that happened 9 years previously. Reminiscing to the sympathetic, elderly Great Patriotic War veteran Comrade Corporal Vanya, Maya tells the story, revealed in flashback sequences, of the crucial roles she and Marcus played at Kar Dathra's Gate. Maya's narration also includes the significant characters: Alexandra Goncharova, her closest friend who happens to be Krawl (tank-like vehicle) captain of the Red Fleet and one of the last people to see Marcus Antares alive; plus Skymarshall A.A. Brusilov, Commander of the Skyfurnace Flagship of the Red Fleet.

A significant viewpoint shift 2/3 of the way through the book, depicts what appears to be Marcus' final moments when highly powerful supernatural entities behind the mere combat of mortals get revealed---the god-like Red Woman and her adversary, Imbohl's main lieutenant and feared assassin Troika. The Red Woman apparently saves Marcus' spirit from Troika's dark clutches for some destiny in the spirit realm yet to unfold before the plot returns to Maya's present where her graveside mourning gets interrupted. She receives orders to participate in a mustering of what remains of the U.R.R.S. forces to face further conflict quelling a rebellion in the mountainous region of Nokgorka in which a precocious young woman, Makita, will represent a formidable challenge to the status quo.

The Red Star needs its coffee table-sized trade paperback format and glossy, fine paper to allow the viewer to appreciate the splendor of the book's visuals that powerfully convey the story's operatic scale. That many images intentionally echo Soviet socialist realist posters of the 1920s and '30s adds frissons of cultural flavor and recognition. Amidst many fascinating parallels to events in our world, the eerie magical technology of the U.R.R.S.' continuum serves to highlight the tragic ironies that befall the protagonists: their conflict between duty and personal desires; likewise between belief in their nation's ideals and patriotic spirit and dismay over the profound corruption of same.

Creator Gossett and his artistic team in their ingenious approach to graphic storytelling, effectively convey the emotional and personal amidst the epic and the monumental. This saga's believability for and thrilling grip on its audience, comes from the care that went into its conception: every design has been individually and meticulously thought out---posters, armaments, buildings, clothing, tanks, aircraft---thus the world they belong to feels real. Equally noteworthy: the way Gossett and Co. inventively play with sequential art conventions, flipping pages onto their side and occasionally eliminating panels altogether, then using 3-D modeling technology (producing amazing lighting effects and unusual camera angles), which gives the whole shebang a lovely sheen. Awesome, dazzling, gorgeous barely describes the overall synergistic effect!

To add icing to the cake, The Red Star includes URLs for websites (www.theredstar.com to start with) that accompany each section, containing supplementary information that serves to enhance the already formidable contents of this volume. Plus, appendices feature: a lexicon; an impressive sketchbook; extensive commentaries in interview format from Christian Gossett, Bradley Kayl, Allen Coulter, Snakebite; and a bibliography of Russia-related books and videos (and even music) that inspired the endeavor.

Inspiring is the word, for The Red Star presents an unabashedly romantic, mythic saga of an alternate Soviet Union that combines science fiction and sorcery with themes of brotherhood and the heroic spirit, added richness coming from underlying subtexts concerning utopian dreams and nightmare totalitarian realities. An enthralling story plus astonishing innovative artwork makes The Red Star deserving of classic status to rank beside Maus and The Watchmen even while it points the way to revolutionary and revelatory new developments in comic books and graphic narrative.

 

© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu