isabellae v1 cover header

Getting the Gang Together: Isabellae, v1: “The Night Man”


A Girl and Her Ghostly Dad

As you can guess from the cover, Isabellae is one tough kid with a sword. The trail of bodies she leaves behind — often decapitated — is a lengthy one.

Raul’s script is the story of how she got to that point that kicks off this series. She’s a lone wolf bounty hunter, helping local towns to get rid of their bandits, for example, with a few quick swings of the blade.

Life is rarely that simple or straightforward, though. She’s travelling with her father on this mission, and he’s a dead man.  Yup, he’s a ghost.  He died in the great battle of Dan-no-ura seven years ago. She’s the only one who can see and talk to him.

Isabellae's dad is a ghost

Needless to say, this confuses a great many people around her.

Her ultimate mission, though, is to find her long lost sister, who went on a different path from Isabellae in the wake of that battle. Her sister, from the accounts in this volume, had a bit of a tougher life, but never gathered the strength to do the kind of work Isabellae is capable of.


Putting the Team Together

Meanwhile, Isabellae’s quest goes off on a couple of side paths. Before you know it, she’s no longer alone. Instead, she’s joined by two new characters who are lost in their own ways. She doesn’t want them there, but she can’t get rid of them, either.

In the end, she’s just gathered a team she doesn’t want to help her fight a battle she doesn’t realize she needs help with.

Really, this first volume of the series is about getting the team together. It’s almost a superhero comic book, where a variety of chance meetings leads wounded people to band together to better protect themselves. It’s strength in numbers and diverse powers.

This team happens to feature a skilled swordswoman, her ghostly dad, a good looking young ne’er-do-well, and a young wannabe who’s more mouth than thought.

This is not a natural team that sticks together and has each other's backs.
This is not a natural team that sticks together and has each other’s backs.

The neat thing this volume does is to put together a team while you’re not looking. It’s not like you’re reading this volume just to put some people together. It feels more natural, and flows more smoothly than your typical crass attempt to form a team by jamming together a bunch of characters who don’t belong together for any other reason than to justify the book’s existence and to hope for a good story, somehow.

It’s such a motley crew that the tense interplay between them interjects a welcome level of humor into a book that might otherwise be far too serious and dreary. The humor also helps to take off the edge of what might otherwise seem like a silly set of circumstances.

I like it. I don’t read too many team superhero comics these days, but the best of them often worked on the differences between the characters who have come together. That clash of cultures or personalities or missions always leads to good conflict in the story and stronger definition of the characters.


The Art of Gabor

The art by Gabor (he also colors it) works well for the story.  Each page is between four and six tiers of panels apiece.  There’s lots of fluid and clear panel to panel storytelling in here, with lots of backgrounds to keep the characters grounded.  There’s never a time when I’ve lost track of where a character stands.

This also goes for the fight scenes, when the fast cuts of movie action have taught us to value the impression of violence more than the choreography of a well-constructed fight scene.  Isabellae has some great and quick moves, but Gabor shows them in such a way that you can always see what’s going on and not get a headache from wondering just how far into the future the next panel would skip next.

The first page of Isabellae features some beautiful backgrounds from Gabor

I like his style particularly for the backgrounds, which have a certain stylish element to them.  It’s something about the way he draws trees and natural elements that really appeals to me, though he’s also good with the structures and the mountains and all the rest. The first page is beautiful for the way it sets the scene and shows nature, often through shadows and strong light sources.


The Colors of Gabor

His color scheme is a real strength for the book.  The book opens in the forest, colored in a bleak brown/sepia misery.  Isabellae immediately stands out for her bright red hair.  It helps her stand apart from the large group of violent thugs she’s compelled to take down immediately.

Color schemes shift throughout the book, as different environments and scene sales take over, but Gabor’s colors feel like they’re always shifted into the same family, but telling a different story. The colors are slightly muted, with no bold primary colors.   It helps separate scenes and, in a few instances, separate out the timelines so you know when you’re in the past as opposed to the present.

Red on the page usually means one of two things: Isabellae's hair or blood.
Red on the page usually means one of two things: Isabellae’s hair or blood.


The Angel Guy With Wings Speaks!

The one off thing in the book happens in the final third. Isabellae meets up with a supernatural winged angel type of creature. This is already shaky ground for me. I can deal with the ghost father as being the one big supernatural element. It adds character to the series, while everything else is fairly straightforward swordplay and down to earth people in small villages.

Then there’s this blue alien winged creature, who sticks out like a sore thumb and kind of brings the story screeching to a halt. He serves a vital purpose in the story of bringing out more of Isabellae’s background and setting the scene for the next volume. That’s all good.

Poor font choice in Isabellae

But his font! Yes, this is a lettering rant. I just don’t like the font at all. It looks like something out of bad Tumblr-based vampire fan-fic. It’s like a serif font sitting in a word balloon. We usually try to emulate hand lettering with computer lettering. This is one step away from using Times New Roman. No, worse, it’s close to trying to be Papyrus. There’s also something about the spacing between lines that makes it look less like dialogue and more like an essay.



Isabellae v1 cover
This is a solid first volume. It feels like the point of it was to introduce the back story and create the team. There are two more volumes available after this now, and we’ll see where the story goes from here. It feels, though, like everything is in place to start that.

And it’s not like this book is a snooze fest that you need to slog through to get to the good parts. It’s littered with smaller good parts all on its own. Learning Isabellae’s background in parallel to the current time is a good narrative trick in this story’s case.

The book won’t be for everyone. If you don’t like violent Feudal Japanese kinds of comics, this won’t be for you. If you want something perhaps more fantastical, this will fall short. It’ll also tick off those who don’t want anything near “fantasy” in a book like this. It’s a tricky line to walk, and it’s the one thing I’m most curious about for the future volumes. How will they walk that thin line?

I’ll have to let you know when I get there, but I’m definitely going to get there. This book did it’s job — it established a world and got me curious to see what comes next. Can’t ask for much more than that.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #36.) Preview

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  1. Hmmmm Asian heroine with a latin name, odd enough already. Doesn’t that review make it sound like the “author” of this book “borrowed” bits and pieces from many preexisting works of fiction and grafted them together without adding anything original, or is it just me being jaded?

    1. They get deeper into it in the second volume, but her mother is Irish, thus the red hair. You might be right to be jaded. I might just be ignorant enough of all those other influences to enjoy this on its own merits, though.

      The book does remind me in many ways of a superhero book. Maybe part of that is the reliance on tropes and mix-and-match storytelling. Maybe.