Given our love for Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, it’s no secret that we here at Therefore I Geek have a propensity for sword and saddle material. (Or now that I think about it, we might just have a fetish for watching Sean Bean die on screen.) Anyway, I have been lucky enough to take a dive into a uniquely styled, fantasy epic called Luminae from Magnetic Press. The brainchild of French artist Bengal, Luminae brings a European sensibility to comics that is refreshing and unexpected.
The first thing that I noticed was that readers are dropped into the story with no explanation or back story. While in media res is a common tool used in storytelling, I can’t remember another story I’ve read that drops the reader in with so little information. Even with that said, I didn’t feel like I was doomed to never understand what was going on. Characters came and went with little regard for the reader, and as they did, I picked up little bits and pieces of information from each of them. Eventually I was able to start putting the pieces together and the story began to make more and more sense.
Bengal has a great talent for doing things in a manner which I didn’t expect, but easily accepted. While the book is titled Luminae, it really wasn’t about the luminous saint. In fact it had almost nothing to do with her directly. As the story unfolded, I kept waiting for her to step up and take action. While she did eventually do something to address the story’s conflict, it was far less than I expected. The story, instead, was about the six women who traveled with her. They formed a sisterhood whose purpose was to protect Luminae, and they were the central cast of the book.
I really loved the fact that the characters weren’t introduced in homeostasis. By the time readers arrive on the scene, there has already been a night of fierce fighting, followed shortly by another. Only after being beaten down for a couple days do the protagonists even encounter the real villain. The villain also had some surprising elements to “her.” I don’t want to get too deep into spoilers because, while I can’t say the turns were unpredictable, they were really good and I would hate to lessen someone’s enjoyment of them by giving too much away. A good villain always has a few aces up her sleeve, and this one absolutely does.
Aside from the sword and saddle tale, Bengal explores some interesting themes and dynamics. Obviously a number of these stem from the sisterhood surrounding Luminae. Throughout the book the women are constantly reminded of their duty to protect Luminae and they are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure she remains safe. That duty doesn’t just extend to the saint, though, as there is a strong camaraderie among them and they are as protective of one another as they are of the saint. Through that sense of duty, Bengal also touches on the idea that all things are cyclical in nature. As events are happening now, they have happened before and they will happen again. Everything has a beginning and an ending, but the universe still carries on beyond both of those single points. By the end of the story, the immediate threat has been eliminated, but it is clear that this is only a small part of something much bigger, about which the reader can only speculate.
Additionally, there is a side plot which delves into the responsibilities of leaders and who is at fault when things go poorly. As the sisterhood is fighting its battles, a local noble is fighting enemies that, unbeknownst to him, are merely a symptom of the larger conflict. Needless to say, his provincial force is no match for the enemy and he is forced to live with his failings and the loss of life. As part of this, the noble is forced to confront and evaluate the counsel which he has been receiving. The old saying “heavy is the head that wears the crown” fits the situation perfectly. The noble is forced to admit that even though his councilors were wrong, the ultimate decision was his and that responsibility ultimately lies with him. Eventually, the noble does what he feels is best, and instead of attacking those were truly innocent, just to have someone else to blame, he leads his troops into battle in an attempt to redeem himself.
While Bengal weaves a masterful story, he is primarily an artist, and an incredible one at that. Although his style is sometimes difficult to describe, it often feels a little like anime—if anime came from Europe instead of Japan. There is still very much a European sensibility to the book, but the action sequences have a manga feel to them. It is very possible that my difficulty in describing the art stems from the fact that I have very little to which I can compare it. This is unlike most of the comic art one might find here in America and that is awesome for so many reasons. It does, however, make it difficult to describe by comparison.
Needless to say, the book is stunning. Looking back at the pages, I’m reminded of just how interesting the backgrounds in this book are. Bengal makes great use of them, switching between almost non-existent, single color backgrounds and highly detailed images, depending on which suits the story best at that moment. It also serves to keep the reader guessing and never knowing quite what to expect next from the story. In a world where superhero comics have become unfortunately predictable, Bengal uses both the art and story to keep his audience guessing.
The more of Bengal’s work that I’m exposed to, the more I love it. While it may not have been what I was expecting out of the book, it was certainly an incredibly satisfying read that I would recommend to anyone looking for something outside the standard American capes and tights.