Monday, June 13, 2011

The Phoenix Requiem

Quick Overview:
Title: The Phoenix Requiem
Author/Artist: Sarah Ellerton
Started: September 2007
Ended: March 2011
Pros: Beautiful, atmospheric art; cinematic pacing
Cons: One-note characters; confusing climax

I've been following Sarah Ellerton's work for a long time. Her first comic, Inverloch, was the first webcomic I ever read, so her comics hold a special place in my heart. It's been amazing to watch her grow as an artist and storyteller. The Phoenix Requiem's art quality improved quite a bit over the 3-year period it ran, not that it was ever bad to start with. While it was active, it consistently held a high ranking (usually #3 or above) on Top Web Comics. And, while this is no longer exactly relevant, the updates were always as regular as clockwork, and would come out with 2-3 pages at once. I just think that's notable for a comic of such high quality.

The story: The Phoenix Requiem is a quasi-Victorian romance/ghost-story, and that alone is enough to steal my heart. In the small town of Esk, a severely wounded stranger is discovered by the townsfolk during their All Hallow's Eve celebration. His arrival disturbs the peace in more ways than one, as danger, mystery, and supernatural occurrences seem to follow in his wake.

The young nurse who restores him to health is gradually caught up to the whirlpool of secrets surrounding him, eventually leading to an epic and convoluted struggle between life and death, mortals and spirits, love and duty.

The setting: The world of the Phoenix Requiem is a Victorian-inspired fantasy setting. It is not explored beyond a city or two, the suggestion of other countries, and some history and folklore. While not extensively developed, it is sufficient to tell the story. Most of the story takes place in the small rural town of Esk, with occasional outings to the larger cities of Aubeny and Stoneshire. More important than the exact geographical configurations of these places is their atmosphere, which is always beautifully conveyed.

The characters: The main characters all fall into recognizable and accessible archetypes. There's the young, shy, studious girl; the smooth-talking outsider with a dark past; the rugged, weathered, gruffly endearing ex-soldier; and the spunky, flirtatious tramp with a heart of gold. Sure, it's been done before, but I don't think there's anything wrong with conventions such as these. The characters work well together, tell a gripping story, and are easy to identify with and get attached to. They just don't surprise you very much — you already know them. The story is essentially plot-driven, anyway, so it doesn't suffer from the one-note characters. The Phoenix Requiem's characters are likable, engaging, and appropriate for the story. They're also serious eye candy!

The art: Oh, man. You are in for a treat. The Phoenix Requiem is done in a gorgeous, painterly style that perfectly compliments the romantic, gothic subject matter. The characters, as I mentioned, are beautiful to look at, and great attention is lavished on their costumes, especially Anya Katsukova's dresses. I was continually impressed by the variety of creative angles within a scene; here is an artist that doesn't shy away from difficult perspective. She does a great job with environments, whether architectural, natural, or (oooh) supernatural. She also depicts many different seasons and types of weather with great skill. My only criticism is that the characters' appearances were occasionally inconsistent, and their poses occasionally awkward.

I think Ellerton's greatest strength as an artist, within The Phoenix Requiem, anyway, is her ability to convey a scene's mood and atmosphere through use of color and lighting. Each scene change is accompanied by a new, distinctive palette and lighting situation that is not only refreshing to the eye but really helps to set the tone. Think of it as the equivalent of a movie's soundtrack.

The writing: I feel that the story was very well-planned, with deliberate plot arcs and cinematic pacing. Where it ran into some trouble was around the epic climax, which was rather bogged down by long sequences of confusing, complicated exposition. The dialogue, as well, often felt stiff and unnatural, a not-always-graceful blend of modern and Victorian-esque phrasing.

The bottom line: The Phoenix Requiem is a visually impressive, captivating story with a gripping plot and endearing characters. Its flaws are significantly outweighed by its sheer excellence. The world needs more webcomics of this quality!

Rating: Five stars

>> Read The Phoenix Requiem here! <<

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