by Stjepan Šejić and Ron Marz
It’s the quiet moments that scream for your attention the most. A conversation by the campfire, a few weeks travel across lush landscapes by horseback or the meandering about city streets. Ravine volume 2 catches its breath after the first volume’s ballistic assault of fantastical ideas and awe-inspiring introductions. There’s still plenty of sword slashing, spell casting and dragon fury to be found, of course, but this sophomore effort goes to the ends of the Palladia itself to ensure the characters are as sturdily and lovingly built as the world itself. The pieces have been moved about the board, each with clearer goals, and the stakes continue to augment themselves against the stunning arena shaped by the most eloquently spoken dragonlords in comics, Stjepan Šejić and Ron Marz.
Picking up exactly where the first chapter ended, our two wayward fate-shapers, Lynn and Stein,were in the midst of the most violently adorable meeting two attractive young protagonists could have possibly have in a place where virtually everyone is looking to either capture and/or harm them. If one were devoid of decency, it could be referred to as a “meet-cute” with fire breathing lizards and spiritually inhabited weapons of death. Unsurprisingly, misunderstandings are quickly remedied and a mutually beneficial arrangement is formed as the two (okay three; Hurricos the dragon is wonderfully omnipresent) travel to the independent metropolis of Wade to seek fortune and freedom. Elsewhere the budding bromance of the King’s top knight, Antheus of many fearsome nicknames, and Arthur, humble noble fighter of the mining town of Buran, leads them aboard the ship of a most formidable facetious female pirate named Eines. The King sends a small party, consisting of the previously introduced archer Sairan, the malapert dragonlord Valerius and led by Lynn’s one legged tough as nails mentor and sister figure, Arianna, to find a retrieve the true inheritor of Dregya’s throne. Oh, and the bad guys have some crazy magic infused snake sexy-time. It’s complicated, obviously. That may be what happens in this collection, but it’s not what really happens. What happens in the quiet moments, in the reprises from grand maneuverings, is an utterly charming, heartfelt fleshing out of characters that already felt fully developed. In essence, by the story taking a moment to inhale, you fall in love with these star-crossed characters.
It would be so easy to have the two young stars of this book simply start to fall for each other because that’s the expectation when two fictional characters are thrust into each other’s paths in tales like this. But Šejić and Marz continue to develop relationships at a grounded, honest pace. Both Lynn and Stein are hiding things about themselves; one their true role as future leader of a nation, the other as mass-murderer…that sounds unbalanced, but there’s much more to it. There’s playfulness not just in their dialogue with each other but in their mannerisms; a sideways glance, a wry smile, a smack upside the head. It feels real, every bit of it. They may be in a fantasy setting, but it is as familiar as watching two small-town high schoolers traipse home after class, nudging each other with their backpacks. Beyond just this interaction between them, Marz and Šejić are also toying with a great metaphor for their journey. Two young people putting off responsibilities (like leading a kingdom), straying instead of settling down (as Stein could easily do in Ward), rebelling against what fate would have them do and enjoying the youthful freedom of wandering. Magic or no magic, they’re tale is about what it means to be young and trying to figure out what your identity is in a large, often terrifying world. It is great storytelling and at the heart of what makes Ravine so addictively endearing. The same level of care and precision goes into each of this chapter’s various sub-plots and while the rapid fire of ideas has ebbed somewhat from the first volume, there’s still the overwhelming kinetics of a living, breathing universe filled with creatures with the deep sight to see how many lives you taken in the form of crows flying about you like a scarf, and dead spirits anchoring themselves to bones form vicious murdering mist-walking knights. It’s stunning all around.
What could be said about Stjepan Šejić’s art that hasn’t already been said? It’s as vibrant and detailed as ever, making a spectacle of even the most mundane of scenes. More so than the first volume, there’s clever experimentation with panel border designs and textures; particularly nice were a subtlety dragon wing-adorned panel as well as an effervescent lightning branched panel. Much like the story itself, the page layouts take moments to rest with three or four panel spreads providing perfect beats to keep the story moving at a very natural pace. While all his character work is devilishly good, his ability to portray the multitude of female characters as strong, unexploited and emotionally deep should be commended in a genre and art style that has often failed spectacularly at this. Everything on the page is awash in emotion; people, creatures and cities all feel equally alive and never static. Stjepan Šejić is a beast and once again his passion for this work undeniable.
For anyone who read the first interval of this epic is aware, Ravine is a special book. Could you pick this one up without having read the first one? Probably, there’s more than enough bonus material in the form of prose pieces and character profiles and appendices to fill in the larger plot points, but why deny yourself the joy of experiencing the grand scale of storytelling at work? Once again, Ravine refuses to be bound by any genre expectations and forges a path all its own. Even in the quietest of moments, it speaks volumes.