Review time! with ‘The Golden Age,’ volume 1

“All the screens are filled with heroes and losers but the sky’s still filled with stars”

I’ve been a fan of Cyril Pedrosa‘s work for a while now, so of course I was interested in this comic when it was offered. He draws it and co-writes it with Roxanne Moreil, and this version is translated by Montana Kane, as the original is in French. First Second Books, purveyors of fine comics everywhere, is the publisher. It’s volume 1, unfortunately, which means we have to wait for the story to continue, but we can dive into this first volume easily enough!

The Golden Age feels like a fairy tale, as it’s set in medieval times and a princess must regain her throne after her father dies. As complex as fairy tales can be, however, this comic takes the basics of a fairy tale and deepens them, as we get a political situation in the kingdom that doesn’t resolve easily and characters who are difficult to root for even though they’re nominally the “good guys.” Moreil and Pedrosa are interested in telling a story in which compelling characters have to make difficult choices, and they succeed very well. We begin with Lord Tankred, who is returning to court after a long exile. He was once very close to the princess, Tilda, but forces conspired against him and drove him away. He and his ward, Bertil, provide good “outsider” perspective on the court. Tilda, meanwhile, is mourning her father but she also has to prepare to rule. Tankred brings her an enigmatic message from an old lord, one who was faithful to her father (it’s implied that some were not). Before any of this can percolate, however, Tilda’s younger brother, pushed by their mother and the lords who think they can manipulate him, tells her he’s taken over. The coup is bloodless, but Tilda’s escape from her brother – aided by Tankred and Bertil – is not, and so she becomes a hunted fugitive. She discovers that the old lord has a message for her, and he believes it means there’s a treasure in a city that her father meant for her to find. So she’s off on a quest, with the kingdom’s soldiers on her trail.

The set-up sounds basic, and it is, to a degree. The story of the exiled ruler who must overcome the evil people who threw them out is timeless, and Moreil and Pedrosa play on that. In the first case, of course, the exiled ruler is a woman, which twists things nicely to begin with. But her brother is young, too young to come up with such a plot, but his involvement gives the coup a veneer of lawfulness. It’s unclear if the people would even want Tilda back, even if she was able to return. There’s also a revolution brewing in the kingdom, and Tilda is not naturally well disposed toward rebellion, as it would upset the status quo that she herself wants to rule. She’ll overthrow her brother, of course, but not the social order that allows him to sit at the top. The rebel leader talks of a “golden age” during which all men were equal, and while that was probably never a reality, the idea of equality for all is alluring, but not to someone like Tilda. So Moreil and Pedrosa make the situation even more interesting – Tilda is a sympathetic character, to be sure, but she can also be nasty and domineering, mainly because that’s how people in her social class can behave to those “beneath” them. Meanwhile, Tankred isn’t a rebel, but his own years of exile have taught him more about the kingdom than Tilda knows, so he’s more sympathetic to the cause. Bertil, who’s a young man and therefore more volatile, is also far more sympathetic to the rebels, to the point where he abandons Tilda as she enters the final stage of her journey so he can stay with the revolutionaries. It’s another interesting choice by the creators, because in stories like this, the core group tends to stay together. But they do a nice job making the characters real, so they make their own choices, not necessarily ones that the plot dictates. The book ends on an interesting cliffhanger, as perhaps there’s far more to the treasure than anyone thought. But that’s a mystery for volume 2!

Pedrosa’s art looks better than it ever has, to me, and I think it’s because of the coloring. He’s always been a terrific artist, using a beautiful blend of thin line and rough brush strokes to create surreal yet naturalistic landscapes, and his characters run the gamut from grotesque to noble, thanks to his cartoonish style. In this book, he goes a bit more abstract with the backgrounds, becoming almost impressionistic and making the forests through which the characters travel even more spooky and even malevolent, and then switching nicely to a softer tone when the narrative isn’t quite as intense. It’s the coloring, though, that dazzles, as Pedrosa uses very bright colors throughout, making each page leap out at the reader and demanding our attention. For large sections, he picks a base palette and then colors everything off of that, even the people, so in the first pages he get a lot of hot colors, with the peasants discussing the situation like a Greek chorus also colored with oranges and yellows, almost blending into the landscape. When Tilda is being transported into exile, the coloring shifts from a pink base to a blue one, shifting us away from the angry civilization of the court to the calmer one of the nuns in the forest. Pedrosa’s use of blacks and the way he often outlines the characters in brighter colors than their clothing makes them almost negative images of themselves, which is jarring but hauntingly beautiful. He uses double-page spreads sparingly but effectively; one, for instance, showing Tilda dropping into unconscious as if she’s floating down a river, another showing a mountainous landscape that brings home how stark the area between cities is in the kingdom. It’s gorgeous artwork, and it raises the bar for what I’ve seen of Pedrosa’s art.

I don’t know when volume 2 is coming out, but I hope it’s soon. Despite the cliffhanger nature of this volume, it’s definitely worth getting, because everything leading up to the ending is very good. It’s a gripping spin on a traditional story, illustrated by a dude who really knows what he’s doing. It’s a nice hefty chunk of comics, too, which is always appreciated! Click the link below to check it out for a good price!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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