The one that started it all!
First off, full disclosure, I am very excited to write about this title. When I first say an article in Comic Shop News about a new title that had Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, AND Annie Oakley, my interest was peaked. I loved the idea of REAL figures of American history (still one of my favorite trivia subjects) being put in to a comic with a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen feel to it, I could not wait to read it. Unfortunately, after I did some digging I found out that the release date for #1 was not for several months. To make a long story short, none of the comic stores in Dallas (one of the largest cities in America) carried the title and I really was interested in reading it. Through the power of social media, I was able to receive a copy of the first volume last week from one of the artists and WOW! Is this a good book! Let me back up a little bit and give you some back history…
As a teenager in the early 2000’s I saw League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the film based on Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s 1999 comic series. While the movie left much to be desired, I loved the comic title and the following spin off series. The idea of famous literary characters coming together to save the world just resonated with me. What I also gravitated to, much to do with Alan Moore’s writing, was the non “marquee” characters that made up the team. Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, and Allan Quartermain, all from massively important books, but not characters that the ordinary person would think of when they recall heroes of literature. The blending of elements from different 19th century works fell perfectly together and was familiar yet new. Rough Riders continues in this spirit and definitely adds to it.
The basic arc of Rough Riders Vol. 1 is that a no-nonsense, brash, adventurous, scotch-drinking (Pre-President) Teddy Roosevelt, assembles a team to go to Cuba due to some questionable circumstances. What follows is an engaging look at the sides of very familiar names in American history that I doubt they would want you to see. Adam Glass does a great job with writing stories that are fast pace, memorable, and does not waste a panel. The action makes sense and I actually took a moment to realize that the amount of character development that is done in seven issues is huge. I understand that it is fictionalized, but to have Oakley’s drinking explained in two panels and you can understand why Teddy found her the way he did is satisfying for the reader more than I think the writer would believe. I do want to commend Glass for putting in some important details that really helped to sell the story. Peppered throughout the dialogue are comments about how Blacks, Jews, and Women are treated and viewed by society at this time. It shows that there is a sense of realism and acknowledgement that you rarely see in modern comments. Even having the main characters show bigotry demonstrates that the characters are not the best versions of themselves.
A book is only as good as the author, for a comic book, the art has to be just as good for a story to hold your attention. Patrick Olliffe makes some very interesting choices for his panels. You will not find a page of panels where characters just look at one another and nothing is conveyed. One of the details that Olliffe created especially well were the characters’ eyes. After I finished the book, I went back and looked at how the eyes were drawn corresponding with what was occurring in the story at that time. To compare, I flipped through a couple of popular current titles with well-regarded artists and looked at their eyes. I noticed in many cases that it was just a filler space. My two favorite artistic parts in the book were Teddy’s dream scene and Houdini freeing himself from a tree. With the art is the coloring. Gabe Eltaeb did phenomenal work creating color pallets of each character that were distinct yet cohesive. Annie Oakley’s (sorry if you are color blind) clothes could be pulled lickity split even if you are flipping through the pages. Eltaeb contributes just as much in the storytelling with his hues and shades as any other member of the team. The work that he puts in to the smallest thing to make a detail stand out for the betterment of the reader is something that Eltaeb does particularly well in all his titles.
In closing, I called Rough Riders a sleeper hit because I do not feel that a lot of people have read it just yet but when they do, they love it. It has the mix of all the elements that a reader wants in a title. The only sad part was that there aren’t any more issues to read. Thank you Gabe for letting me read this.
Final thought, it becomes more and more obvious to me that with smaller publishers, in this case Aftershock, live or die based on word of mouth about their titles. Please check them out, Aftershock has some amazing concepts and I am actually really interested to see some of the titles featured in the back of the book.
Click HERE to check out Aftershock