Mastema is a graphic novel with a script by Curtis M. Lawson and art by Nico Leon (art / design), Alex Chong (art / letters), and Angela Aviles (colors). If you're a fan of fantasy, then there is a lot to like about Mastema, a simple sword and sorcery tale with the potential of being an epic in the making. There are two self-contained stories, Sins of the Mother, with art chores by Nico Leon, and The Devil's Mercy with art chores by Alex Chong.
Sins of the Mother is the main story and The Devil's Mercy is a back-up story which acts as a kind of coda explaining more of Mastema's years as a kind of ronin (to borrow a term), an immortal knight roaming the land, taking odd jobs like an ordinary mercenary just to survive. In this short tale he must rescue a peasant girl from a terrible fate.
My review will be of Sins of the Mother, since that is the main story here.
SINS OF THE MOTHER
We open in medias res where a powerful sorceress, known only as Lady Luedke, is being attacked by knights of the realm. Taking a handsome knight named Mastema as her spoils of war, she siphons the power from the demon wolf creature known simply as Fenris, and imbues Mastema with immortality and inhuman strength.
Flash forward years later, and someone has released the demon Fenris from his prison and Fenris wants what is his. Luedke summons Mastema, whose been her prisoner all these years, and has nothing but contempt for the witch. Unwilling to aid her in her fight against Fenris, Luedke barely convinces Mastema that he must help her defeat Fenris, who is after them both.
Of course, they decide to take the fight to Fenris, but then things suddenly take a turn for the worst. Finding themselves on the losing end of the battle, all seems lost when, out of the blue, a mysterious masked warrior shows up and gives them aid in their fight against Fenris.
I won't spoil what happens, but it's worth a read.
I enjoyed the story for its simplicity. There really isn't too much going on in Mastema's world except for a giant evil monster trying to kill him and a sexy sorceress who desperately needs his approval even though she full well knows he's not capable of overcoming his hatred toward her to love her in the same way she has fallen in love with him.
Even though the one-sided love story isn't the main focus of the story, it was a nice little addition that helped flesh out the characters and helped make their motivations all the more clearer. Luedke loves Mastema and doesn't want him to die, even though he's grown apathetic about his existence, considering his powers a terrible curse, which he blames Luedke for.
Mastema's reluctance to fight, and Luedke's desperate plea for him to do so, makes for an interesting conflict. That fact that she has feelings for him that he won't reciprocate creates a constant tension between the two where they are constantly bickering. This allows Curtis M. Lawson to write some snappy dialog and, at the same time, allows the reader some additional insight into the minds of the two lead characters.
There are a handful of other minor characters that play a role in the story too, such as Luedke's apprentice Nafreen and a religious zealot and assassin.
As for the art, I found it decent but somewhat uneven. Nico Leon is obviously a very talented artist. But some of his perspective shots seemed forced. But his design sense is amazing and he's not afraid to try dynamic perspective shots. It's my guess that he'll go far in the industry and will be a name to watch out for.
Alex Chongs art is infused with lots of energy and reminded me of some early Humberto Ramos art.
If I have one criticism to offer, it's of the coloring. I enjoyed the color pallet and the mystic effects were all done really well. But the colors are often so dark, and muted, that they flatten the art and make it hard to see what's happening on the panel. So much so that I suffered some eye strain trying to distinguish the line art from the background.
Although Aviles is a fully capable colorist, I'd like to see more contrast with the background and foreground images as well as some specific lighting sources. It seemed to me that the lighting was haphazard and it often interrupted the flow because there wasn't must consistency in how anything was being lit. For example, Avils leaves all the blacks solid black regardless of whether is foreground or background, and this flattens the art so much that you lose all sense of depth. Many silhouettes and background shadows blend together with no distinction, and for me this was distracting as it pulled me out of the story.
All considered though, this is a quality book with a fun engaging story, snappy dialog, and solid art. I would definitely recommend it for fans of sword and sorcery and the fantasy genre.
I received an ARC of the book for a fair review.
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.