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Review: The Art of War

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks

The world in 2023 is a truly and completely fucked up place.  A combination of Chinese and Indian interests basically manage the finances of entire world -- including America's Medicare and Social Security funds, among many other things. Average Americans are doing terrible, while India and other countries have lifted their people out of poverty. 

Into that world a man named Kelly Roman emerges from time spent in prison because of a horrific friendly fire incident. Roman is a man on a mission, ready to avenge the vicious murder of his brother. Kelly's brother was slain at the hands of the venomous Sun Tzu, a man who shares a name and philosophy with the famous Chinese general who wrote the classic The Art of War.

What follows Kelly's release from prison is an intense and complex book that practically defines the word "dystopian." The world that Roman and DeWeese create is as dark, gritty and nasty as any world I've seen in comics recently, an intensely interesting book rendered in black, white and bright blood red.

I found it fascinating how intently this book follows Sun Tzu's classic treatise on war. Readers get to experience Sun Tzu's philosophy as stated and then, sometimes obliquely and sometimes directly, as actually acted out. Kelly and the new Sun Tzu are continually part of a cat-and-mouse struggle against each other, like two chess masters, struggling against a foe that is equally as sophisticated as them. And God help any innocents who get in their way, whether those innocents are family, lovers or even a large city.

It's interesting that, according to the piece he wrote for Huffington Post, Roman wrote the script before recruiting his artist. Michael DeWeese's chilling visuals seem perfectly suited for the work. With his intense stylization, his judicious use of reds and his breathtaking eye for the perfect intense image, the art works perfectly hand in glove with the story to create something a book that is dark, bleak and thoroughly involving. It's a grotesque dystopia, where vicious men and women will do anything to fuck each other -- and us -- over, and the team of Roman and DeWeese bring this story intensely, chillingly, to life. It’s no surprise that this art has been displayed at galleries because it's gorgeous in its horrible intensity.

Usually in these sorts of books, we get a protagonist who's above the fray somehow; a man who has strongly heroic elements. And the namesake Kelly Roman who is the protagonist of this story seems to mean well. But even as he triumphs, everything Kelly touches turns into pure shit -- his relationship with his dad, the woman he loves, his bosses, a romantic interest -- everything just basically gets ruined either because of Roman or despite of him.

Your tolerance of this intense and intricate story will depend on how much you can enjoy the pretty much unrelenting darkness of this story. Roman and DeWeese create a work from the heart, but their heart seems a bit black and depressing. This is a gorgeous and intense book that will stick in your mind and heart and not let go.

 


 

Jason Sacks is Publisher of Comics Bulletin. Follow him at @jasonsacks, email him at jason.sacks@comicsbulletin.com or friend him on Facebook.

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