Romulus Augustus is one of the most vilified and controversial of leaders in history. Known as “Romulus Augustulus,” or “Little Augustus,” he was the product of a coup that was ill-fated from the very start. His father, Orestes, in charge of the military, pushed out the emperor, Julius Nepos. Then Orestes installed the boy as emperor. Romulus reigned over the last days of the Roman Empire. His reign lasted less than a year, from AD 475 to AD 476. Orestes, arrogant and distracted, would be overwhelmed by a mutiny led by one of his own senior officers, Flavius Odoacer. In short order, Orestes would be executed. Romulus would be sent into exile. The boy king remained an enigma, a mystery. Travis Horseman adds to this intrigue with his comic book series, “Amiculus: A Secret History.”
Procopius of Caesarea continues to find the true story of Romulus, the boy emperor.
The details add up very nicely in this well-researched comic narrative based on Romulus Augustus. Travis Horseman has created one of the most unique works in comics which combines elements of speculative history and the supernatural. The second volume to “Amiculus: A Secret History” is truly a second act, an opportunity to delve deeper into the characters. We learn more about each player including the evil force lurking amid the shadows, the mysterious figure Amiculus. It is this demonic Amiculus who enables the barbarian hordes to overrun the western region of the Roman Empire which Orestes and Romulus only had a tenuous grasp on to begin with.
What is Amiculus?
This comic is a fine example of what is possible when a creator gets fully immersed in a subject. Horseman has teamed up with a kindred soul in artist Giancarlo Caracuzzo. Both are driven and that resonates with the reader. While the narrative can get bloody, it is not exploitive violence. Essentially, it is strategic and, at times, only implied. Much of the blood is due to the ruthless Orestes. But this would not be story without his bloodlust. That said, I think this would prove a great gateway for teens to learn more about ancient Rome. I would also not be surprised to see the Amiculus series adapted for television or some other format on the screen. For now, we have this very inventive and engaging comic.
Philip K.Dick’s 1962 novel, “The Man in the High Castle”
One nice perk at Comic-Con in San Diego this year will be Amazon unveiling a new episode of their adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1962 alternate history novel, “The Man in the High Castle.” The pilot episode, in a nutshell, is pretty awesome in how it presents a world in which the Axis powers won World War II. The ten-episode thriller comes to Amazon this fall. I think it should prove to be one of Amazon’s best offerings. It inspired me to go ahead and read the original novel. I was ready to expect it to be a different animal, much in the same way that the “Bladerunner” movie and novel differ. And I was pleasantly surprised.
Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle”
Comparing the pilot episode with the novel, I appreciate just how action-oriented this Amazon TV offering is. I admire what Amazon has done since they truly adapted the work from one medium to another. It really comes down to one big thing, that was taken from the novel, and will power the television series. That is to be found in the title itself. The novel treats it one way. The television series treats it another way. I won’t spoil anything for you, but if you’re one of those types who doesn’t want to know anything beforehand, then consider yourself warned.
What it takes the length of a novel to explore can be distilled into a compelling visual lasting only a few seconds on film or television. For the purposes of television, the essence, as it were, taken from another medium, cannot only be distilled but then stretched out to infinity, or for however many seasons. Here we have characters living in a world where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won the war and carved up the former United States. But there are pockets of resistance questioning the status quo. The biggest pocket of questioning resides with “The Man in the High Castle.” In the novel, this individual is easy enough to find. In the television series, this individual is cloaked in mystery.
And here’s the thing, the thing that makes the novel such a great read and which gives the TV show every opportunity to succeed: this business of questioning can get pretty interesting. At the end of the day, the questioning is about reality itself. Now, here’s the kicker: in the novel, Philip K. Dick was perfectly content to have a novel that raises these questions about what is going on and suggests a world where the Allied forces won the war. It is readily available in any bookstore and it’s even a bestseller. In the TV series, it’s not a novel but copies of newsreel footage showing the Allies as victors. This is totally an underground thing. And spooky. How do you fake newsreel footage showing such elaborate scenes? Sure, they could be faked but they sure don’t look faked. And so this hints at something supernatural. It sure hints at something that is not explicitly in the novel. What it does, however, is instantly evoke that delicious uneasy feeling of suspense that you get from reading the original novel. And that could very well prove a recipe for one successful run on Amazon.
At this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego, Amazon will host a special screening of the first two episodes of The Man in the High Castle. No worries if you can’t attend this year since the entire event will be live-streamed on EW.com. Check out Entertainment Weekly’s interview with Ridley Scott and his role as an executive producer on the TV series right here.
The special event takes place on Friday, July 10 at the San Diego Civic Theater. In addition to the first two episodes – the second of which has never been seen before – there will also be a Q&A with the cast at the venue.
Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle stars Alexa Davalos (Mob City), Luke Kleintank (Pretty Little Liars), Rupert Evans (The Village), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat Legacy), Joel De La Fuente (Hemlock Grove), Rufus Sewell (Eleventh Hour) and DJ Qualls (Z Nation). David Semel (Heroes) directed the pilot episode, which was written by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files). Both serve as executive producers alongside Ridley Scott and David W. Zucker.
Check out a teaser for The Man in the High Castle above. You can see what I mean about the spooky newsreel motif. The pilot episode can be seen over at Amazon right here. Suffice it to say, you can expect the 10-episode thriller and original novel to prove to be very distinct animals all the way to the end. You can find Philip K. Dick’s novel, The Man in the High Castle, over at Amazon right here.
“Amiculus: A Secret History: Vol. I: Roma Aeterna” is the first in a trilogy about the fall of the Roman empire. Not the decline, we go straight to the fall. And at the epicenter, so it would have seemed, was the boy king, Romulus, the last emperor of the west. As far as boy kings go, he was as inept and childish as they come and was easily manipulated by his overseer, the Magister. In this issue, we get to see the Magister make minced meat out of Romulus and anyone who proved to hinder the precarious western front of the Roman empire.
Creator and writer Travis Horseman does a wonderful job of bringing history to life. His narrative, along with the sharp artwork of Giancarlo Caracuzzo, reminds me of the historical graphic novels of Wayne Vansant. There’s that same urgency in the lines drawn along with a mission to get it right. In this case, Horseman is not attempting to organize actual facts. He is filling in the blanks to a nearly nonexistent story about the real Romulus. And to further propel the story, he has created the shadowy figure of Amiculus, a supernatural entity that controls events behind the scenes. It’s not quite clear what powers he has but it’s clear he’s feared and omnipresent.
Rome was not built in a day nor did fall in one day. However, some days are more fateful than others like when Romulus ceased to reign in A.D. 476. Our story begins in March, A.D. 538. The armies of Justinian, the emperor of Constantinople, have retaken what was left of the Roman Empire. Procopius of Caesarea, is a historian embedded with the army to record events. He’s our narrator. Once Rome is secure, he sets out to find out why Romulus disappeared from the picture some sixty years prior. Of course, the boy king, if he should still be alive, would have quite a story to tell. For the meantime, Procopius has the next best thing, a book that outlines the last days of Romulus’s reign as written by Romulus himself.
You can see that Horseman and Caracuzzo are having a whale of a good time with this comic. I’m glad this title can be added to the noteworthy work being created in comics. Let me tell you one thing, and I’ll gladly say it again, if I hear or read one more person chirp that comics aren’t for kids anymore, I’ll slap them silly. Here, pick up a copy of Amiculus, and you can clearly see yet another example of the mighty power of the comics medium. Those who continue to use the lame catch phrase “Comics aren’t for kids anymore” are hiding under a rock. They have chosen to hide under that rock. Amiculus lives somewhere in the region of an “all-ages” comic. Not totally since, gosh darn it, there is some mature content. However, it boils down to PG-13 fare: mild language, relatively mild violence. Hey, it’s the fall of Rome. There will be some blood and some swearing. So, yeah, from teens on up.
As a great mystery and a gateway to history, “Amiculus: A Secret History” is a worthwhile read with colorful characters, intriguing elements, and one wild tale to tell. It will be fun to see how the story unfolds in the rest of the trilogy. For more details, visit the official Amiculus website right here.
There is something very wrong about following a vengeful JFK in pursuit of his killers but Craig Frank is willing to go there in his graphic novel, “JFK: SECRET OPS.” It is dark humor to be sure. What makes it work is Frank’s unabashed commitment to stay the course. Okay then, giddy up, pardner, cause we’re on a bumpy conspiracy theory-laden crazy ride. Where do I find these unusual works? Well, it ain’t easy but it’s fun.
“Manifest Destiny” is a great name for a comic and now we have this gem, published by Image Comics, in connection with Skybound, which you can visit here. This is created and written by Chris Dingess. He admits to a passion for the weird so he’s just the right guy to mashup the Lewis and Clark expedition with a healthy dose of horror.
We want our comics to sing. “East of West” sings to us. With this latest issue, wrapping up content for the first trade paperback, we get a greater sense of what lies ahead. The pace mellows out a bit so that we can better understand the chemistry between Death and Xiaolian. That helps us to see how the pieces to this story may fall into place and everything, including the title of the comic gains greater significance. It’s an essential issue in what is certainly adding up to be an essential comic.
Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta are in this to win. We’ve been given a lot to work with in terms of background and plot which is hardly a bad thing. The more the better. You know why? Because what is of highest priority for the story will rise and what is secondary or tertiary will fall where it needs to go. Those are the building blocks to solid storytelling. Given ample room to work and the right circumstances, a writer of the caliber of Mr. Hickman is going to do right by you. Add to that what an artist of the level of Mr. Dragotta is bringing to this, and you’ve got it made. What’s happening now in this issue is laying down one last big slab of foundation to keep you going for a long time to come. If you wondered what exactly Death and Xiaolian were about, this issue clears that up nicely.
You also get a better look at the world-at-large in this story: What’s at stake? Who or what is going to gain or lose if this or that happens? You get some interesting exchanges between other players in this game. It feels like a beautiful elaborate fable that’s unfolding. The world hangs in the balance, right? Love. War. Death. Yes, it can seem like an overwhelming concoction. You have Death on his mission guided by The Message. You have the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse in pursuit of Death. You have The Chosen plotting the course of world events. But the story is agile and can easily go from macro to micro, from world events to detailed interaction between characters.
If you take a look at the other celebrated Hickman title at Image Comics, “Manhattan Projects,” with artist Nick Pitarra, that gives you some sense of how “East of West” will shape up. That comic is also deep in the throes of possible world annihilation. It’s had some time to settle in and yet it continues to tease out new scenarios.
For now, we know that Death is sweet on Xiaolian. And we learn how it is that Xiaolian can even come close to taking on Death on a equal footing. We don’t know yet why Death comes across as a lonesome ole Texan but we’re sure to find out.
“East of West #5” is available as of August 14. Visit our friends at Image Comics.
Jonathan Hickman has a need to juggle many balls in the air. It is a dazzling thing to behold going back to “Transhumans,” “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” as far as it got, “The Manhattan Projects” and, of course, his run on “Fantastic Four” at Marvel Comics. With “East of West,” for Image Comics, he unites with his “FF” artist, Nick Dragotta, and gives us quite a show.
So far in the story, we are in for a dystopian treat with an alternate America cut up like a wedding cake. One big hunk goes to Texas, just because. The North and South get their shares, this being the only way to resolve the Civil War. The cajuns get a bigger slice than they already had. The Indian Nations get a piece big enough to settle many scores. The Chinese end up with a big hunk. And there’s a spot in the epicenter, perhaps a demilitarized zone. Well, that’s where the comet crashed, right in the middle of the North American continent during the American Civil War, but more on that later.
This scenario alone would be plenty to work with for any story. But, no, Hickman throws in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! Now we’re cookin’! They’re really what “East of West” is about after all. Nothing is going to result in a world, as we know it, in this story and that could be a good thing–but probably not. Getting back to that comet. It was pretty hefty. It was such a game changer it ended the Civil War and brought about the creation of the Seven Nations of America. Will we learn more about this comet? Is there more to this–like more of Earth beyond this new America? Hmm, lots of balls in the air which is good insofar as adding texture and probably a whole lot more. So, yeah, whether Hickman ever gets back to explaining any of this comet blast stuff or not, that’s our starting point and then we fast forward the clock to the year 2064 and we see that, while peace may have broken out after the comet blast, it has eroded back to civil war. Conquest, War, and Famine have returned in the form of children and with a no-show, Death. The Three Horsemen, as it were, are ready to bring on the Apocalypse but where’s Death?
Through the years, legend has spread about an answer to the world’s ills in the form of The Message. Those who have read it, know what to do. Death has read The Message and appears to be on a killing spree involving The Chosen and world leaders. Death begins by making short work of the President of the North. He keeps killing down the chain of command until he settles on the Secretary of the Interior. This choice fits in with his plans which turn out to be more than mere killing. He’s setting up a whole new world leadership. However, Conquest, War, and Famine have other plans, like finding Death, for starters. Maybe his “wife” can help? That’s where we come in with this third issue.
While Hickman follows comic book tropes pretty faithfully, as in ending with a surprise, his surprises are all the more surprising, you know, given his skill to spin a tale. For Issue Three, he has us get to know this mystery woman in Death’s life. Could she really be his wife? We learn that she’s the daughter of the Chinese leader and that would put her father right in Death’s crosshairs. Of course, Death don’t need no stinkin’ crosshairs, but you know what I mean. Anyway, this issue is another killer in visuals. Nick Dragotta does a beautiful job of brining to life the mystery lady. Lush color by Frank Martin. And spot on lettering by Rus Wooton, too. All shout outs here essential.
The woman in question is young and brash, excels at martial arts, is something of a mystic, enjoys walks on the beach, and wishes to be left the hell alone. Her name is Xiaolian. Can you see Death dating her? One thing is for sure, Death, like taxes, is a certain thing. Death means business and it doesn’t look like an intriguing young woman is going to hold much, if any, sway in his decision-making. However, and there are always “howevers” to deal with, maybe love will find a way. As kooky as it sounds, yeah, maybe love will find a way. That’s what Death’s entourage, made up of two ethereal and spooky characters, known as Crow and Wolf, think. Yeah, Crow and Wolf believe in love! It’s a testament to confident storytelling to take this detour, by gum! And, we all know there’s more going on.
Some comic books are just barely holding up a plot while others stand out as something special. “East of West” aspires to be the next big thing and so far so good. The story has plenty of leg room and could go in all sorts of directions. There’s a lot of thought put into this and could easily be developed into a prose book or series of books. Of course, comic book investors hope to see this become the next “Walking Dead.” For now, appreciate the comic because the comic alone could indeed keep growing and exceed anyone’s wildest dreams.
“East of West #3” is currently available and Issue Four is on sale as of July 10. Visit our friends at Image Comics.
JFK survived the assassination and is out for revenge. That is the premise of Craig Frank’s humorous and thrilling work, JFK SECRET OPS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL. It is currently the subject of a fundraising campaign that runs through May 25. You can visit the campaign HERE.
As you’ll see in this video interview, Craig is a down-to-earth guy. He’s very gracious and thoughtful. His idea for this book first took root after a visit to Dealy Plaza and visiting The Sixth Floor Museum. He is a seasoned animator and painter. He has always loved the comics medium and the limitless possibilities of the graphic novel. He comes to this project with the skill and the storytelling sense required for the job.
As a fellow participant in Kickstarter (I have my own campaign here), I fully appreciate where Craig is now. The timing is just right for his book in more ways than one. It’s the perfect time for him to be taking on such a project. And, it just so happens that we’re observing the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination this year. 50 years later and that event still has the power to haunt, confuse, and strangely fascinate.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced how appropriate this seemingly “inappropriate” graphic novel really is. It didn’t fully occur to me until after the interview that we can’t lose sight of the fact that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was only human, right or wrong, and the man could be egregiously, horribly, wrong with his treatment of women. What happens is we get caught up in the myth, fostered by powerful interests, run by the Kennedy family, the Democratic party, and, perhaps, the whole damn system that we can only imagine in all its machinations.
There is, of course, the fact of his tragic death that seems to wipe the slate clean for eternity but maybe not exactly. And the fact, and this is even as tragic, is all that was genuinely good about the man. It’s complicated for sure. Give an inch and admit the shortcomings of one leader and look at his lesser rivals swarm to exploit it. All that said, hell yeah, bring the icon down to earth. This graphic novel is a good and healthy thing.
Enjoy the video interview!
Support JFK SECRET OPS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL at Kickstarter right here.