Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Yesterday I had the pleasure of reading Michael Easton’s and Christopher Shy’s wonderful new graphic novel, Soul Stealer (DMF Comics). Dark, original, and sophisticated, Soul Stealer is just simply a beautiful, marvelous book, one whose imaginative depth enchanted me in a way that I haven’t been for years. I love the vivid quality of its storytelling and its deft, seemingly effortless synthesis of world mythologies—Egyptian, Greek, Celtic—into an highly unusual syncretism that allows for unpredictable plot swerves and unexpected linkages of characters. A recent news update at Christopher Shy's Studio Ronin website indicates that Soul Stealer has exceeded half its print run during its first week of sales, suggesting that I'm not alone in my assessment of the book's value.
The story’s protagonist, Kalan, is a young, Etruscan warrior once cut to pieces by a brutal, hulking savage named Apis Bull, part man, part ox. Like the Frankenstein monster—whose remorseless loneliness and parentless lineage Kalan shares—Kalan is less a man than an assemblage (“there were days I wasn’t even sure who was calling the shots inside”), re-membered and restored to life by a magician named Strabo, the father of his lost beloved, Oxania. Motivated by his profound, eternal love for Oxania—taken from him by the capricious Gods—he can do nothing but wander for all eternity through time and space, searching for a sign, some way that he might re-unite with her. His undying love is both a blessing and a curse.
Kalan has been cursed, but has also been compensated with a special gift. The quest for Oxania may form the continuing narrative, but Kalan’s gift forms the story’s special intrigue. The God Osiris has given him the ability to traverse between worlds: he is able to enter hell, find an individual soul, and deliver it to the land of the living—hence the title of the series, Soul Stealer, of which this initial codex forms the first book, titled “The Beaten and the Damned.” The novel’s fluid narrative consists of interludes of a blissful, lyrical quality (composed largely of Kalan's memories of his time with his beloved) that punctuate explosions of action, all augmented by Christopher Shy’s beautiful artwork, distinctive for its masterful control of light, poised between functional representation and evocative (non-representational) expressionism.
I could go on and on about Soul Stealer, just simply a great imaginative accomplishment. Happily, it promises to be the first by Michael Easton, who has co-written yet another in a different (forthcoming) series, The Green Woman, with author Peter Straub—the latter having provided an excellent Introduction to Soul Stealer, incidentally. As Straub rightly notes, Soul Stealer “rings with . . . the voice of a true storyteller, big and capacious and truthful.” He goes on to say, "Michael Easton and Christopher Shy have made a wondrous book," and I heartily agree. I look forward to reading the subsequent books in the series, and, of course, the pleasures of returning to Soul Stealer once I've emerged from my recent euphoria.