Ursa Minor #1, the debut issue of the new series from Big Dog Ink, does just what the opening chapter of any good story should do; it teases, tantalizes, and leaves you with questions, and a hunger for more.
Set at the very beginning of 2013, just as the world is heaving a great sigh of relief over having survived the pitfalls and prophesied perils of 2012, writer Tom Hutchison opens the book with the inauguration ceremony of the winner of the 2012 presidential election. But in a twist that the Aztecs could never have predicted, werewolves viciously reveal themselves, with a spree of worldwide, carefully targeted bloodshed. Our only recourse for survival are the vampires that soon thereafter make their existence known, conveniently offering up their services to wipe out the vicious were-marauders. In the wake of these two revelations, we find that creatures, both brutal and fae, have been sharing our world, unknown by us until now. Issue #1 sets the stage for a story in which human brutality, then remorse, leads to an uneasy, and in some cases, exploitative, existence with these bizarre and unusual creatures. The book also sets up the inter-species rivalries that, I imagine, will fuel much of the story to come.
Along with laying these foundations, Hutchison introduces us to a few key characters: Angela, a cocktail waitress with a (literally) smoking hot butt (well, it’s the cross on her back pocket that leads to the heat); Onyx, the bartender made of, well, onyx; Anna Beth, the elegant, arrogant leader of a cadre of well-dressed, poorly behaved vampires who are searching for clues to a mystery; and, perhaps the key to the mystery itself, erstwhile showgirl Naomi, who just might be a were-bear. No, not a care bear, but a beautiful woman who can turn into a huge, scythe-clawed, sharp-toothed, animal capable of … well, we don’t know that yet, do we?
Hutchison’s set up is lushly illustrated by the art of Ian Snyder (pencils), Sony Merbitt (inks), and Luis Guerrero (colors). Considering the large cast of characters, major and minor, that pack the pages of this book, each face is unique and distinguishable, even in crowded scenes. Faces, although often in shadow, are expressive and have depth and personality. Most of the action in the story takes place at The Carnival, the “25% nightclub … 75% zoo” cabaret at which we meet the key characters introduced in the issue. The details of the decor are lavish, as are the erotic, exotic (and I mean *exotic*) showgirls. Snyder’s line art and Merbitt’s inks combine to create a sense of texture and dimension not often found in fantasy/horror comics.
And the colors … just WOW. The pages are saturated with deep, rich hues with hardly a trace of white space to be found. One notable page is splashed with lashes of deep crimson blood, so well-rendered that it looks as though it’s seeping from the page. Shades of red permeate The Carnival, with interesting touches of slightly sickly greens and turquoises providing a contrast. The lighting effects are amazing; elaborate chandeliers, back lit liquor bottles, stage lights illuminating the dancers, all seem to actually glow.
And so does this review, huh? For the most part, I am mightily impressed with Ursa Minor, but there are some elements I hope the series will grow out of: I sincerely hope that not ALL of the leading vampire characters are elegant and arrogant, which leads me to hope that not all of the werewolves are vicious and cunning (and not all of the ethereal, winged creatures fae and sparkly-magical). I’d hate to see this series fall into the trap of stereotyping the interesting creatures to whom we are being introduced. I am sure there are surprises in stock in Naomi’s case, and I can’t wait to see where her story goes. Right now, I’m happy wallowing in the beautiful artwork, and waiting with baited breath for the revelations behind the mysteries begun here, and the others, yet to follow. I highly recommend you come along with me for the wild ride that seems to be ahead.