"I put the fear in you, Darman."

Powr Mastrs Vol. 2 (of 6)

I like a cover that does the work for me. Look at all that helpful information, clear as day - no mistaking anything up there. And the red is shiny foil too!

This is, of course, the sophomore installment of a fantasy opus by C.F. (Christopher Forgues, aka: Kites), and another book in the PictureBox semi-tradition of processing the stuff of genre comics through wildly individual, often 'fine' art-informed aesthetics. It's also maybe the closest of them all to traditional genre storytelling, barring the imminent return of Cold Heat, written by C.F.'s old Paper Radio cohort Ben Jones.

Really - chapters may jump from location to location at a brisk pace while the grand plot kind of creeps along, but put these 104 pages together with the last batch and you've got a remarkably straight-on fantasy scenario, brimming with saucy witches, odd societies, arcane secrets, a naïve young adventurer, several tortured monsters, an upcoming magical event that may well Change Everything, and even a group of exiled villains cooking up a vengeful scheme to topple the land's power structure with the creation of a dread(?) super-warrior.

And if said vengeful scheme involves the covert production of homegrown cola and licorice, and dipping a young woman into protective spider-person egg for a Legend of the Overfiend sex encounter with the Jellyfish Emperor, well, that's just how C.F. rolls - mixing and matching childlike (but never childish) details with deeper, consuming desires and a sweetly embracing attitude toward all the world's strange creations.

The same goes for his visuals (samples at the PictureBox link above): disarmingly precise doodles coexisting with spots of vivid detail -- mixed so that a funny, bendy man whipping off his cloak to reveal his body's deformity provokes some real shock along with a chortle -- trailing off sometimes to maybe track a ghost's flight through the sky, or a young man's exploits in blowing shit up, or some other appealing bit of local business. You get the feeling the artist's just happy to be there, although some of that doubtlessly comes from the story's preference for swinging around its New China instead of pressing the tale sharply forward; it's worldbuilding of a momentary type, filling out attitudes and granting ephemeral feelings all the weight of subterfuge or conquest.

This particular volume adds the manga-ish special attraction of selected chapters in color, which immediately lays out how excellent a colorist C.F. happens to be. It's all just slightly smudgy, very delicate in texture, but armed with a striking sense of compliment, and a heavy respect for white space. At times it pops almost like Laura Allred's work (albeit handmade, and with half the page untouched), but it's also capable of feats like filling in a corpse's body with intermingled pink and blue, giving it a sickly detail entirely apart from the artist's sparse lines. It's good enough that it winds up with the same problem that haunts the better manga coloring - you wish there was much more of it.

I suspect some might wish for more plot advancement. Nominal outsider-as-reader-identification-figure Subra Ptareo -- he of the youth and naiveté (or is it caution?) -- pops in for only three or so pages this volume, stripping it of the 'discovering a community' aspect of the debut edition. But then, we're already there, so C.F. flits to and fro among portraits of desire: the most obvious among them sees hot-blooded Ajax Lacewing having an orgasm while ripping a giant to gory shreds, like something out of Faust (if Faust had ever stopped its story for a multi-panel study of semen dripping downward, which it should've), but you've got to add in spider-person Darman Orry's determination to be the man-monster his father wasn't, or a smuggler submarine captain's musings on life's cycle of pleasure and despair while a crewman sucks him off and takes him from behind, or the realm's wizard/scientist/god Mosfet Warlock's insatiable need to create stuff, regardless of its toll on anyone or anything.

You'll understand why the 'villains' want revenge; sympathetic baddies are a staple, after all. But C.F. struggles to present all of his creations in a somewhat sympathetic light, granting everyone a moment of thoughtfulness or a capacity to behold beauty, or even just some desire for a silly friendship. It synchs with the notepad sprightliness of the artist's drawings to leave his world uniquely appealing and friendly, even when momentarily awful and cruel. It encourages the instinct to explore like few other comics I can name; lucky that the tour's the thing.