Meredith Finch and Ig Guara bring us the first issue of Rose this week, from Image Comics. The issue opens with a substantial, artfully presented, introductory letter from Meredith Finch expressing thanks to many people in her life, and conveying a big truth about comics–they do not usually happen in isolation, and if they ever seem to, they are still a product of our experiences and interactions with others. It’s a big roll call, and it speaks to the communities in our lives that make the creative process possible and bring us new stories to learn from and enjoy.
Rose is set firmly in a sword and sorcery vein, but this isn’t old-school Conan the Barbarian, or even Dungeons & Dragons in style. It’s forged of fresher material while remaining aware of the fantasy tradition that still speaks to comics readers today. We have a kingdom that has fallen far from its former glory because magical protectors, tied to totem magical animals, have been wiped out and the practice of magic has been banished from the realm.
At least 10 years into this process, we meet Rose, who was born with magic, kept fragile and hidden inside of her for her own safety. But of course, it’s magic, and as she says, “What fun is having magic if you don’t use it?”. Like many stories about becoming a force for good, Rose is going to face some harsh truths and even harsher challenges simply because of who she is and what qualities she possesses.
The kingdom is rules over by Drucilla, a Queen who seems to have done nefarious things to her own family in order to establish her reign, and as a possessor of magic herself, she has been responsible for removing it from the land so that she can go unchallenged. She also has created a kind of warped version of her own magical protectors who are carrying out the ongoing slaughter. However, all is not entirely bleak, since there is a congregation of survivors and rebels who may well live a Robin Hood-like existence in the woods. They still have some desire to change the arcane balance of power and Rose has been given a chance, by encountering them, to see the world differently.
The artwork by Ig Guara on this series is accomplished, suited to creating a whole world with its own aesthetic, architecture, and ways of life. The action scenes as well as the more emotional conversation scenes are presented confidently and with a great deal of nuance. The color scheme is interesting too–veering away from a dark or misty palette and making this tale of magic decidedly not Gothic in tone. Instead, we see flashes of bright colors and warmer hues that suggest an earthy and nature-driven liveliness, with hints at hopefulness about the role of magic in this world.
We don’t know all that much about Rose yet, but as the title character, we are bound to get to know her. But we know that she’s capable of being naive and a little silly, capable of whimsy and gratefulness, but not necessarily ready at all to make a stand against great opposing forces in the kingdom. If she’s going to become a force to be reckoned with, the magic inside her will have to be greatly developed and her own sense of purpose shaped. That’s a solid direction for the comic to take, and presumably, we’re heading that way.
It’s significant to read a book that has a female lead, a female villain in the Queen, and a secondary female “guide” figure, in the magic woman who Rose meets among the rebels. That triad could mean a lot to readers and to the sword and sorcery genre of comics, where we quite commonly have one of those factors, less commonly two, and very rarely three.
There’s room for Rose’s character to be developed greatly, as mentioned above, but let’s hope that the comic unfolds more about our female villain and female “guide”, and beyond that, to encompass a diverse cast of characters, in the series. That definitely seems like something Meredith Finch and Ig Guara are capable of doing. For a first issue, Rose makes significant headway in setting up the world of the story and in bringing forward interesting characters for readers.