Ascend: Special Edition (IDW Publishing)

ascendheader.jpgThe tale of an all-out holy war that came to its author in a dream, presented in a new, over-sized special edition.

 

 

First reaction: a war in heaven. You’re either groaning or intrigued. I suspect for most, it’s the former, but for the latter readers, you may be open to the runaway success of Keith Arem and Christopher Shy’s Ascend, the tale of three angels and a mortal steering the course of an all-out holy war. This tale came to Arem by way of Gaimain-esque dream trade on the night of May 23, 2003. So powerful was the experience that he had to write it down, had to find an artist, had to make the story that would one day become a diamond in the eye of video game designers, filmmakers, and a readership that would make the comic’s first run a sellout.

But is the idea a bit of a sellout? Everyone at one point has encountered the war-in-heaven story, and not to sound jaded, but most of the time the ideas are not terribly different. Good versus bad, right and wrong, black and white, pretty simple as far as those things go. However, where these stories, including Arem’s, succeed is in the blurring of those defined pairings; the fall, the ascent, the mixtures of the graceful and the graceless in a dance that can only be called human. There’s a poetry in it that all too often catches writers and threatens the complexity of their characters. Readers find themselves lost in epic statements that sound fantastic but ultimately mean nothing.

Christopher Shy's artwork from Ascend. Click for a larger image.Arem falls prey to this trap several times throughout the telling of this story, which may lead readers to question it’s overall power when separated from the, let’s face it, stellar artwork. Part impressionistic dreamscape and part Goth fantasy, Shy’s artwork runs both hot and cold, literally. Juxtaposing ethereal peacock greens and teals with gritty burnt oranges and fiery reds, Shy manages to capture the essence of angelic perspective, from burning war fields to a world off kilter. Shy’s illustrations hold a brittleness that beautifully compliments the fragility of Arem’s characters.

Yet somehow, I’m not satisfied by the read. Garth Ennis managed it with Preacher and Neil Gaiman succeeded with The Sandman and Murder Mysteries, but I’m not left with the same feeling here. I could cite issues of length, but at 200 pages, Ascend certainly is not fighting for space. What then? Research? There’s tons of it. Aside from Google-able Bible quotes, Arem tosses in Dante’s Inferno, Seneca, and a breakdown of angelic references categorized by questions about their strength and whether or not they can quote scripture.

Perhaps that’s the problem. As far as packaging goes, this special edition has it; great graphics, fantastic printing, and the icing of onion skin pages and cryptic embossments. That’s where my suspicion takes over. I repeatedly kept asking myself why I was so focused on the packaging. What’s missing from the story? The answer is depth. The beginnings of it are there; I’m intrigued, and I want to know more about these characters, but before I can, it’s all over. The story concludes and I’m left anchoring myself to the flashy bells and whistles. I wanted to be more excited about this story, but for all the embellishment, my overall experience fell just under the radar. | James Nokes

Click here for a 5-page preview, courtesy of IDW Publishing!

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