Carbon Age Review: Military Fetishism Never Looked So Beautiful

Comic creators have taken to the financial backing site Kickstarter in such a creative collaboration peak that I thank my lucky stars I live in the twenty-first century where such a thing is possible. Each creator has their own need to try this method of investment when it comes to the expensive printing process. Jason Thompson needed funding to rerelease his out-of-print H.P. Lovecraft comic The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath And Other Stories, while Carlton Hargro and Alex Woolfson both wanted to see their titles The African American Superhero Anthology and Artifice respectively demonstrate comic leads that they considered  unrepresented in the comic medium. Then there is the Kickstarter comic project whose economic funding rises almost as high as the internet famous “Detroit Needs A Statue of Robocop!”, otherwise known as the ten year side project Carbon Grey.

Carbon Grey is a collaboration work constructed of what you could call a squadron (I warned myself that reviewing a comic about war did not mean that military related jokes were any funnier) of writers and artists. To start, the group is led by original spearhead writer and artist Hoang Nguyen. Nguyen’s original illustration for the character Mathilde sparked story ideas that led to him assembling the Carbon Grey production team. From the top, Mike Kennedy writer of Ghost and various Star Wars comics for Dark Horse, writer Paul Gardener, writer Khari Evans who was the artist for the Marvel title Daughters of the Dragon, and finally Kinsoh Loh who has collaborated on famed Chinese comic (manhua) creator Ma Wing-shing‘s long running series Fung Wan (The Storm Riders). Now that the long introductions are over, can these cooks collaborate together to make something fantastic, or prove the old saying that too many cooks spoil the meal?

Steam-Punk World War I is upon us dear readers! Our fanciful European-esk continent is split each way into vaguely German (Axis?) and Britain (Ally?) style regions that are important only to those few referencing the included map in hopes of creating a setting for their Pathfinder or Burning Wheel game. His Majesty the Kaiser has been reportedly assassinated during a dirigible filled air raid (expectant of Steam-Punk), and many believe that the culprit is none other than one of His Majesties’ long held personal body-guards, Gisselle of the Sister’s Grey. Yes readers, our dear Kaiser has been murdered by one of his closest protectors. The hunt is on for those that have taken our God from us!

Theatrics aside, Carbon Grey is about the Sister’s Grey: Eva represents Wisdom, Anna represents Strength, and in an unprecedented upset are the twins Mathilde and Gisselle, one representing Grace and the other (to break this long chain) representing Rebirth. Since the days of the people’s hero Gottfaust, whose line of women has body guarded the Kaiser for generations. Gissele’s rumored killing of the Kaiser, effectively threw the country into cause. The hunt is on for all four sisters.  This hunt intertwines their lives with an over the top cast of characters like the odd pairing of seductive Ally spy Dina Cumming and snarky thief Elliot Pepper, the almost incapacitated Red Baron hot on the pairings tail, and finally the imposingly badass Wolf General. Amongst a continent spanning war, there is still time for monarchy power-struggles that Gisselle is but a component.

My first introduction to Carbon Grey was by way of the hardcover art book that they released, which should give you a good clue-in that the most talked about part of Carbon Grey is the gorgeous artwork. As Hoang Nguyen entails in his KickStarter video, each page goes through meticulous amounts of rework that leaves wonderful, if not taxing time and money wise, visuals. Aside from Hoang Nguyen’s focus towards character designs and full color spreads (reminding me of the work of artist David Ho but replace the macabre with military and gun fetishism and age the little girls up to full European built women). Khari Evans and Kinsoh Loh demonstrate excellent color and line work whose over demonstration of effort leave every panel open to a “framed on the wall” level of artistry.

Now, you might be expecting the story to suffer not only because the amount of writers but because the old saying “Pretty as a peacock, but as dumb a post” usually refers to comics with such a heavy focus on the art. But while the story does tend to run at a breakneck speed (I tend to reread/ rewatch whatever I review and this problem stood out both times), you still see what is going on here. The story is so thick and concentrated that it needs that “cutting biplanes in half with a katana while simultaneously-shooting fetishly detailed firearms” action so as not to be consumed. There are overtly well-worn concepts like special stone McGuffin and chosen-and-generally-silent protagonists sure, but you can see that the story is not completely shadowed by the artwork.

Pro: Combination of best in recent memory artwork and interesting world building leave such a recognizable world that might have only come from comic creator collaboration. Larger than life characters that while sharing the spotlight equally, make the pacing all the more enjoyable to follow. This highly concentrated level of excitement oozes grandiose and memorability.

Cons: Do not expect to be blown-away by the series main lead, almost as if the supporting cast is there to make up for Gisele’s quiet brooding nature. This read has rather distraught moments where the three more violence-prone Sisters each vizierate a key figure or bit character wasting the victims potential (this might be a commentary on the Sister’s because the meek Mathilde is a not counted under these situations). I found it hard to follow the action scenes and narrative on a first read through. Aforementioned concentration leaves only a less than one-hundred page, with extras I might add, trade.

All three issues of Carbon Grey were collected by Image Comics into the volume one trade. In the past I reviewed one of my current favorite comics Super Pro K.O. and wrote about how it was a labor of love of one Jarrett Williams whose epic world could only suffer from trying to pick up the universe in one fell swoop and keep it up. Carbon Grey is just like Super Pro K.O. in that it is so big, and there are these entire plot treats, and an over-the-top cast of characters that my one true fear is that these two comics will buckle under their own self-imposed creativity. In the same way that I wish Jarrett Williams the best of luck on Super Pro K.O., so do I wish the same for Hoang Nguyen and his team. Such labors of love are the reasons why I read comics.

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