Battle Chasers was published in the 90s and it looks and feels about as 90s as a comic book can really get. That doesn’t excuse some aspects of the book, but historical context is important when engaging with art from any period and, as depressing as it is, this book is almost 20 years old. Primarily written and drawn by Joe Madureira (Joe Mad), Battle Chasers is a fantasy/steampunk action comic set in a world full of flying sea rays, werewolves, and undead horrors that constantly threaten civilization. Centered on a small group of heroes who spend most of the book meeting each other and learning to get along as well as they can while dealing with various challenges and threats, Battle Chasers is full of so much potential. Unfortunately, the book does not have an ending, as Joe Mad moved into video games and never got back to finishing the story. That being said, it’s a pretty fun and engaging book that I think is worth looking into despite not having a real ending.
Set in a region known as the Civil Territories, the book centers around a young girl named Gully, who is the daughter of a mysterious, powerful, and missing, man named Aramus. Attacked by werewolves at her home in the woods, she dons her father’s enchanted gloves and encounters Knolan, a powerful old wizard, and Calibretto, a large war golem powered by technology and magic (maybe?) who is a left over from a bygone war. Later on, a brooding but fierce warrior named Garrison joins their group due to his past association and relationship with Aramus. We also meet Red Monika, who initiates a prison break that drives the majority of the book. Magical duels, sword fights and just enough character development to keep me interested ensue.
I can’t say the story is anything all that special or unique. Young innocent girl gains great power and meets mentors and protectors who will hang out with and help her grow are not exactly the most original starting points for a story. Even her legendary but absent father is quite the clique. And most of the characters meet the requirements for well-known archetypes. Garrison is a talented warrior who lost the woman he loved as so retreated from the world, only for his sense of duty to slowly bring him back out of his drunken hermitage. Knolan is the sassy old wizard who has seen everything and is not to be trifled with. Calibretto is basically Data from Star Trek; struggling with human emotions and what it means to be sentient while Red Monika is the hot, busty, criminal ringleader who plays by her own rules. Sound familiar? Do they all sound familiar? Good, because in many ways they are all right out of Dungeons & Dragons central casting. Now, none of this is really a bad thing; some of my favorite stories and characters are not all that original (looking at you Luke Skywalker). The main cast is very likable, especially Knolan, who is funny and wise in unexpected ways that really endeared him to me. Both Gully and Calibretto have a really nice combination of power, innocence and wonder about them that work well and hopefully could have gone somewhere interesting. Garrison and Red Monika are probably the least developed overall, but still, they work (for the most part). Joe Mad does a good job of establishing who they all are and defining their personalities and motivations. We really do get a lot out of them in only nine issues or so.
But if you are going to read this book, it’s gotta be because of the art, which is the books real selling point. I’m not familiar with Joe Mad’s work, though it does look very familiar… enough to where I must have read something of his and just forgot about it. Regardless, Joe Mad is very talented and this book really shines; even more so when you realize he was barely in his 20s when he drew this; the pages show a distinct and mature style that definitely harkens to the more absurd days of the 90s comics boom, but age, for the most part, rather well. The actions scenes are just full of energy and a dynamic sense of movement and power that is really hard to capture on the comic page. Calibretto and Gully fight a demon about a hundred pages into the story, and it is just awesome to read. Calibretto and the demon are these huge figures that almost burst off the page and everybody’s attacks and movements seem to surge with power and danger. And he can even do smaller scenes really well; there is a subtle moment near the end of the book between Gully and another character who wants to kill her that is really poignant and heartfelt that Mad draws to perfection. Mad’s imagination runs pretty wild throughout the book and its’ a shame that there doesn’t seem to be that many comic books that he has drawn since.
Now, that all being said, it’s time to talk about his character design, which for the most part is good to great. Gully looks like a little girl, and he even makes her ludicrously large power gloves work on her little body. Knolan and Garrison are pretty standard looking for an old mage and dangerous warrior type; about halfway through the book Garrison cuts his hair, and Mad does a great job of showing how different that can make someone look without making them look like a brand-new character. Calibretto is really well designed with lots of cool looking bolts and welding’s all over his body; he looks like he was welded together without looking too busy. He’s also absurdly large, but that works for the character and his role as an inhumanly strong protector exploring his possible humanity.
You know who else is absurd looking though? Red Monika. You know whose completely wack proportions, body and costume don’t work well at all? Red Monika. I mean, good grief, just look at her.
I am all for sexy men and women in my comics, to be sure, but Red Monika is so absurdly designed and over the top that it is hard to really get past it. Her boobs are these two enormous globes that get in the way of her ability to do anything; they physically just do not make any sense. Overall, she is a perfectly fine character; strong, independent, talented, lives by her own code… everything you would want in a character. But her visual design is just so ridiculous that it impedes any real ability to enjoy her or see her as a fully-fledged person because her over the top sexiness and proportions simply get in the way; her physical attributes almost literally jump off the page and into your face in a really obnoxious way. Now, I’m sure that many would argue that it’s fine because she is strong and independent but I would disagree. You can’t balance that out with other strong characteristics and think that everything is fine. Yes, she is strong, yes she make her own rules and is clearly in charge of her own fate, but that doesn’t balance the scales. These kinds of things are not binary; a creator doesn’t get to objectify a character in such a lazy way because she is a strong person in so many other ways.
The other big problem with this book is that it feels incomplete. There is a story and conflict that gets resolved by the last page, namely the prison break and somewhat vague threats to Gully and her gauntlets, and it is one that brings the characters together and allows us to get to know them, but the book really only feels like it’s getting started right as it ends. A new adversary gets introduced almost literally on the last page, which really just teases for the possibilities to come that, in fact, never do.
I mentioned earlier the context of when this book was originally created. Joe Mad was very young, and the comic book scene was pretty different than it is now; creators and readers have different expectations of what they want out of a book than they did twenty odd years ago. I don’t know what can really justify a character design like Red Monika but what I do know for sure is that it up to you, the reader. I found it distasteful but not so much that the book is ruined for me. Battle Chasers is a fun, exciting book full of energy, danger and wonderful art. It’s downsides and how much they will distract or hurt the reading experience for anybody is entirely up to readers to decide for themselves.