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Good Read Column for November 22, 1998

Dragon's Bane

Story and Words
by Harry Bauer
Art by Sean Murray
First of a three-part series
26 story pages, Hall of Heroes, $2.50

(of a possible five)

(ASSUME ALL STANDARD
SPOILER WARNINGS)



Rory McKenna is an archaeologist. I would have thought he was a paleontologist, but the website promoting this comic says he's an archaeologist. Rory and his partner, Liam O'Shea, unearth some very special bones, extremely light, but strong. As Rory says, "The shape does not fit the bone structure of any known species of dinosaur." Not only that, but the bones are only 1300 years old. They can't possibly be dinosaur bones.

What we have here is a dragon.

This comes as no surprise to Rory. He knew all along he'd find a dragon. There had to be a dragon. No one else believed him, of course, not even Liam, until they actually laid out the wing in Liam's living room. But there it is, unmistakable. A dragon skeleton.

Or I should say, most of a dragon skeleton. We later see McKenna and O'Shea visiting a museum, a museum that does not specialize in paleontology, but which happens to have a few bones in its collection. The museum director calls them dinosaur bones, but McKenna believes they will complete his dragon.

The museum director dismisses the notion as ridiculous and refuses to cooperate, but McKenna persists, offering to display the completed dragon skeleton at the museum. The museum director is still not certain he wants any part of what he considers to be a charade, but O'Shea points out that people will pay to come see it, real or not.

Actually, I'm skipping ahead a bit. The comic actually starts with a very nice full page shot of the completed dragon skeleton on display, and a second page set at the opening night party at the museum. At the end of page two, McKenna touches one of the bones, and flashes back to digging it up, then the conversation with the museum director. Then we have a scene during construction of the skeleton before we rearrive at the opening night party again.

Much of this issue is prologue, setting the stage. Getting us to that opening night, where things begin to happen. It's an intriguing story. I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say the paleontologist ends up getting more than he bargained for.

This is a bit unusual for me, reviewing a comic that hasn't actually come out yet. It may be shipping the last week in November. Or possibly early in December. It's still apparently up in the air, as of my last e-mail contact with Harry Bauer, who kindly sent me photocopies of the interior pages for review. That's good, though, because it gives you time to get to your friendly retailer and see if you can reserve a copy, or get him to back-order it (or get him to order a couple dozen directly from the publisher - minimum order of 25 gets a 50% discount, which is better than Diamond will give him, and I'll bet they'll sell out).

For two guys I've never heard of, with no comics experience beyond strips for college newspapers, Bauer and Murray handle the storytelling and art like old pros. I wouldn't have been surprised to see this book coming from DC or Dark Horse instead of a small independent company I'd never heard of (although the Dragon's Bane website says Hall of Heroes has been publishing comics for five years).

What I'm getting at is that this book doesn't have that "amateur" look most genre/adventure/fantasy material from small publishers has. Let's face it, if you want to do slice-of-life stories or other projects that don't fit the adventure/fantasy mold the big companies are into, you have to go to a small publisher or publish it yourself. But when you see someone doing adventure/fantasy from some little publishing company in Indiana, you wonder if they were rejected at all the big houses.

And maybe they were. If so, a big mistake for the big houses, in my opinion. Murray, in particular, is a solid artist whose work is at once familiar and distinctive. It fits in well with the Adams/Byrne/Lee/etc. school of pseudo-realistic art we see in most superhero comics, but there's an undefinable something that sets it apart, not quite like anyone else's work. I think Sean Murray is a name to watch out for.

Bauer is not quite as good, on the basis of this first issue, but just as professional. I could name several big name superhero writers who have had steady work for decades who can't write any better than this. I have to admit, though, there are a couple of scenes in this comic that just don't quite work for me, places where I felt the whole thing was unlikely, and my suspension of disbelief began to break down.

When a writer's doing a scene like that, the dialogue has to be more than "believable" - you actually don't want to sound the way real people talk. You have to notch things up a level, make it sing, so that the reader is pulled into the poetry of the words and doesn't have time to notice whether or not the museum director, who just said he was concerned about the integrity of his institution, would be swayed by a few quick dollars from curiosity seekers (at the risk of forever losing large corporate backers).

But frankly, that's a quibble. For a first comic, this is wonderful. There is no really bad or awkward dialogue, nothing that seems forced. The exposition is handled flawlessly, which is truly rare for a novice. The main thrust of the story has enough excitement and suspense that I genuinely can't wait until the next issue. Bauer has already mastered the basic craft of storytelling, and he, too, may grow to be a star in the field.

I recently learned by e-mail from Harry Bauer that this is the first of a three-part series, and I am extremely bummed. I was looking forward to reading this for some time to come.

As anyone whose followed my reviews knows, my favorite comics are those that go beyond light entertainment and escapist fantasy. But there's nothing wrong with a good escapist fantasy, when it's done right. I love Citizen Kane, for example, but I also love Star Wars.

No one will mistake this comic for an advancement in the medium of graphic storytelling, but it does what it does quite well, has a solid story well-told with good art. It's sure to be a crowd-pleaser, and if it doesn't sell well it's only because so many comic shops won't even order comics from small companies like Hall of Heroes. I'll bet it sells out in every shop that carries it, so you better get your copy quick.


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