Aftershock Comics’ Rough Riders series returned February 22nd for a new arc, titled “Riders on the Storm” and featuring the varied cast of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen style period figures (but from history rather than literature) in the year 1901. Focused on Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders”, which in this case means a group of known turn of the century celebs, the series introduced alien technology, national intrigue, and of course lots of fisticuffs and gun slinging in series 1. As a new reader, however, I’m approaching the first issue of the second series.
Going in “cold” to the first issue, I was immediately impressed by the artwork by Patrick Olliffe. His linework is appealing, active, and renders historical settings and clothing well. The colors on the series also make it fresh and attractive to read, from Gabe Eltaeb. Meeting Teddy Roosevelt, off hiking in the woods as his President, McKinley, is shot, seems like a good choice to set up the story, particularly for new readers. We get to see this central character’s personality as he thinks about life, death, and beauty and we get the sense he’s a man of contrasts–fastidious but also capable of violence and deep thought.
This issue then reintroduces several key characters like Harry Houdini, who has moved beyond carnival tricks to becoming a main attraction, Jack Johnson, a boxing legend, and eventually Thomas Edison and Annie Oakley. Each is presented in a situation where, for those who read the previous series, you’ll see that a little time has passed. Houdini is now quite successful and Johnson has racked up some victories in the mean time. Edison is our window into future or alien tech that will be part of this story, since there’s some question over who shot President McKinley and why. Solicits for the next issue tease a “global conspiracy” behind this assassination attempt, hence the need for a crack team of adventurers.
The creators have made a good decision in using issue #1 as a double introduction–explaining where in each character’s personal timeline the story is set for those who read series one, and bringing some backstory and context in for those who are new to the property. The seriousness behind Roosevelt’s character helps to tie together an issue that otherwise needs to jump around in order to introduce others, and pulls the first installment together.
We have no lack of larger than life characters introduced here to carry a new story arc, between an escape artist, a boxer, a sharp-shooter and a legendary scientist. But let’s hope we spend a little time with these characters to get beyond historical shorthand where each can shine. Many of these figures have been part of a reappraisal in pop culture and even historical studies in the past couple of years–Houdini got his own TV series in Houdini & Doyle, and has appeared in several time-travel shows lately–as we re-write history for fictional period pieces. Trying to stay too faithful to real history seems like a mistake, but embracing a fair amount of wackiness in one’s fictional premise while setting a serious enough tone could work, and that is what writer Adam Glass has done so far with Rough Riders: Riders on the Storm #1.
Issue #2 will arrive on March 29th, 2017.