There are two books out this week involving immortals. One is a brand new series from Image Comics called The Old Guard, featuring immortal mercenaries working to remain hidden in a technological world. As cool as that sounds though, it’s going up against something even better.
That’s right, the quintessential eighties flick with sword-fighting immortals, Sean Connery playing a flamboyant Spaniard (living in Scotland no less), and a sick Queen soundtrack is getting a brand new comic book series set before the events of the first film. While Highlander: The American Dream isn’t designed for people who aren’t fully familiar with the series in general, it’s a fun return for fans clamoring for more of Connor MacLeod’s journey.
The new series, from writer Brian Ruckley and artist Andrea Mutti, takes a similar narrative approach that the film followed. The opening sees Osta Vazilek, one of the few remaining immortals, in Manhattan, circa 1985, meeting up with the Highlander MacLeod to discuss their past and reminisce before “The Gathering” – seen in the movie. The narrative then flashes back to the American Civil War, showing how the two first met under violent circumstances.
The first issue reads like a fun return to the original film. Regardless of what you may think of the sequel film or other continuations in mass-media, the original is still one of the great fantasy films of that decade. Ruckley shows his love for the source material in his rendering of the story, building a dynamic between Vazilek and MacLeod that feels like the beginnings of a partnership not unlike that between MacLeod and Ramirez in the film. The changing between time periods also gives the book a feeling similar to the film, as we see the different phases in the life of an immortal – waxing and waning between despair and determination, emotional warmth and coldness.
The opening scene also feels straight out of Highlander as the reader sees Vazilek visit the antique shop MacLeod runs. Vazilek speaks with Connor’s secretary Rachel, offering up the information that he has known Connor much longer than Rachel could have and must see him soon. The scene buzzes with tension for those who have seen the film. Knowing the battles these immortals have gotten into and the lengths some will go to be the last one remaining, it’s hard to gauge where Vazilek stands as he speaks about wanting to meet with Connor. Battles could come from anywhere to bring about The Gathering, and Ruckley and Mutti work hand in hand to create a scene that is both tense in the script and shrouded in enough shadows to keep the tension high.
This leads into what is arguably the biggest issue of this opening. This book relies heavily on knowing the basics of the Highlander universe. That should go without saying, as a book based on a preexisting property would obviously require a little knowledge of the original material to enjoy it fully. Yet the way Ruckley structures his script practically skims over some of the background details needed to make this issue a good jumping on point.
First issues can be challenging. Too much exposition and you run the risk of spinning your wheels just to let the action kick up in issue two (like Doctor Aphra was guilty of). Too little exposition and new readers can’t enjoy the book the same way hardcore readers would. The American Dream borders on the latter, as the background details given are almost an afterthought – like Ruckley remembered on a second draft to include some details of The Gathering for new readers. The result is a book that makes even casual fans (like myself) need to go read the Wikipedia page to remember some of the details Ruckley only passingly references here.
While the writing sometimes suffers, the art keeps the book looking great and justifies this purchase. Mutti brings a unique and well-designed look to the art. In many ways it reminded me of the original Sandman issues that were drawn by Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg. The colors, especially those in the Civil War-era pages, are lush and vibrant, but with a tinge of greys and blacks to them that makes the book feel dark despite the unique color choices. There are even places where the art feels almost washed out, similar to the ways Keith and Dringenberg would make their pages feel dreamlike in Sandman. The result is a book that is evocative of comics from a bygone era – fitting for a book about immortals.
Mutti also captures the look of the original film in her renderings of the New York City scenes. The aesthetic is captured very well in the looks of the people walking by oblivious to the action around them. Even the look of Connor is recaptured for this book, with his trenchcoat and white sneakers being brought back when he visits Vazilek. The design adds to the feeling that this is a solid prequel for fans to enjoy.
There are two books coming out this week featuring immortals. But if there can only be one in your collection, be sure to make it Highlander: The American Dream. Even if you haven’t seen the film, go out and buy this book – it’ll give you a reason to see one of the great underappreciated films of the past.