Writer: Jon Tsuei
Artist: Audrey Mok
Publisher: Vault Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A Middle-Eastern high fantasy epic about gathering a party of ancient and powerful beings themed on the zodiac.
Think The Illiad meets Final Fantasy in a Prince of Persia-esque setting.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
(Minor spoilers from the previous issue)
On her quest to free the Royal Stars, a divine quest she hopes will save her people and family, Sera, the Princess of Parsa, is trapped in the underworld. She's being hunted by spirits that wish to keep her there by appearing as her lost family and breaking her spirit. Aided by the real spirit of her late brother and the Royal Stars she's freed so far--the bull, the scorpion, and the fish--Sera must escape immediate danger and return to the physical realm.
Doing so won't be easy. She'll have to appeal to the Council of the Dead, a panel of the gods of death from every human civilization, and discover hidden powers within to escape. All the while, her party is being chased by the Draco siblings, Stars who oppose her divine journey and will stop at nothing to kill her and her companions. Will she be able to act under pressure and unlock her untapped potential? Or will she remain in the underworld and doom her people to famine and destruction?
Tsuei's script is air-tight, well-paced, and wonderfully enthralling.
Mok's artwork, as ever, defies any expectation and keeps you on the page looking for details and studying the gorgeous imagery long after you're done reading the balloons.
Angulo's approach to color gives a unique feel to the comic. Though varied and clearly defined, he keeps his hues restrained and somewhat dim, which gives the impression of reading a scroll or tapestry.
Campbell utilizes subtle differences in every character's speech balloons and fonts that not only allow the reader to immediately identify who's talking, but some small insight into their character. Well done!
There's a lot of lore and backstory in this issue that, handled poorly, could have made for a slog of a read. However, there's always something happening and the exposition is woven in so well, the reader doesn't even pick up on the world-building this issue is focusing itself around.
There's a marked improvement in dialogue and pacing in this issue. Characters take small pauses when they talk, there's more humor, and on the whole, everyone feels more human compared to previous issues.
Sera is an incredible protagonist. Motivated, capable, and sympathetic, she avoids a ton of pitfalls that might normally mar a typical hero of an epic story.
The character designs are expertly executed; whether it's the royal family of Parsa or the legendary gods Sera is gathering, everyone is visually distinct with excellent detailing and clean silhouettes. It makes for a better reading experience and it aids in the overall cool factor the comic undoubtedly has going for it.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
This issue starts right off the heels of the one before it; if you didn't just get done reading it, it's likely to be disorienting and if you're jumping into this series on this issue, there's almost nothing to anchor you in the world or clue you into what's going on.
The villains are a little generic. There's probably some unexplored motivation that will set them apart further down the line, but right now they fall a little flat, which is a shame.
On the whole, the story has suffered from conveniences and Sera getting out of situations not on her own merits, but because she gets lucky. In this issue, it's not nearly as big of a problem as it has been, but I feel it should be mentioned when commenting on the story as a whole.
Occasionally, the comic will unintentionally undercut its own stakes. When there's an immediate threat, but characters spend a full page talking instead of dealing with it, it's harder for the reader to take the threat seriously.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Sera and the Royal Stars is an excellent example of how to bring multicultural stories to a mainstream audience and why it's important to do so. The plot could easily be written off as formulaic and unoriginal, but the unique perspectives, art style, and unfamiliar lore do so much to keep the well-explored high fantasy genre fresh and exciting. The story, on the whole, works as an outstanding adventure with excellent characters and visceral threats that would have been lost had it remained in a typical Medieval European setting, with all the usual hallmarks that accompany the genre.
This issue specifically, finally addresses some of the grievances and hesitations I've had with the series so far. In the first three issues, the dialogue is a tad stilted, characters aren't allowed to breathe, and Sera comes across as what a committee might come up with for a strong female character (overly capable, flawless, no personality). This issue slows things down just enough to give us some impactful character moments and gives Sera some much-needed personality quirks. In this issue, she feels like someone we can relate to, which was the major element that held the story back from true greatness.
If you haven't read any Sera and the Royal Stars, definitely start at the beginning and know that it's well worth the full experience. If you read the first few issues but weren't sure if it was worth your time, I encourage you to stick with it. This really feels like the issue where everything comes together for the series and I can't wait to see what they do next.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
RunLoveKill, Vol. 1 by Jon Tsuei & Eric Canete
Monstress, Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Heathen by Natasha Alterici & Rachel Deering
If you like the art:
Heroine Chic by David Tischman & Audrey Mok
Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Jordie Bellaire & Dan Mora
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Jon Tsuei – Writer
"His first widely distributed published comic book work was for the Tori Amos-inspired anthology Comic Book Tattoo" (taken from his bio on the Image website)
Dream Team: Seems to work very closely with Audrey Mok on the story and its pacing, and you can definitely see that trust and cooperation in its pages
Audrey Mok – Illustrator
Outlander: She's based in Hong Kong
Often seems to incorporate blank space into her art that almost brings a sense of loneliness or solitude to her characters
Raúl Angulo – Colorist
Also does color work for BOOM! Studios comics
Jim Campbell – Letterer
Outlander: Hails from the United Kingdom
Multitalented: Also enjoys the art side of the creative world
Prolific: Has done lettering for a large number of hit titles
Adrian F. Wassel – Editor
Name Recognition: Is the CCO & Editor In Chief of Vault Comics, and plays the role of editor on most, if not all, of Vault's titles
Also runs Vault with his brother and father
Has personally helped other comics creators, like Eric Palicki, in their endeavors
Tim Daniel – Designer
Multitalented: Also was the writer on Fissure
Inspired by others in the business: Sonia Harris, Sean Phillips, and Fonographics
Dream Team: Co-wrote Curse and Burning Fields with Michael Moreci
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Issue #4 drops Wednesday. Click one of these to pre-order it.
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