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Comic Review: The Praetorian
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The Praetorian coverThe Praetorian
Written by Ryan Foley
Art by Robert Gill
Colors by Aikau
Letters by Shawn DePasquale
Edited by Amanda Hendrix
Arcana Comics
Release Date: July 25, 2012
Cover Price: $19.95

The Praetorian is full of potential with a story romanticizing gladiatorial glory and democratic revolution. Unfortunately, the comic limps to a slow start and never hits its stride. I’m usually a sucker for “Power to the People” stories, which might explain my great disappointment with this book. 

The land of Desperian is, as the name implies, a desperate city-state ruled under the iron fist of the dark wizard, Lord Zoranthar. Valoriss Bladesong, an imprisoned foreign warrior sold into slavery, proves herself in battle.  She earns a shot at glory in the Desperian gladiator arenas. Bladesong and fellow gladiator, Flay, team up to dominate the blood-sport. They quickly capture the hearts and imaginations of Desperian’s citizens. An upstart rebel group recognizes Bladesong’s worth as the face of their revolution and recruits her services.  

The concept is hardly original. However, mix in a little wizardry, anti-wizardry, Tremors-like monsters, and some graphic butchery, and you have the makings of a fine fantasy action-adventure. Writer, Ryan Foley, conceived a beautiful world with rich lore. Frustratingly, Foley often dumps information about this world instead of letting his characters play in it. 

The Praetorian spends entirely too much time telling us about Desperian instead of showing us Desperian. As readers, we want to experience the action–not listen to an introspective lecture about it. The dialogue is wordy and unnatural. Foley crams too much information into speech bubbles instead of letting details reveal themselves in the action. Most panels include simplistic narration that bludgeons readers over the head with obvious details, battle tactics, and descriptions that are better left implied or conveyed graphically. 

An example is Bladesong’s narrative description of the arena crowd reactions while she’s in battle. In one panel, she tells us about how absolutely quiet the crowd is. Then, in the next panel, she tells us how loudly the crowd erupts when she’s victorious. This key scene, which should drip with tension and drama, came off flat and anti-climatic. Simply removing the narration and transferring the focus from the words to the crowd’s shocking silence, followed by their pandemonium, would illustrate this scene with a higher degree of drama. Foley should hold back a little and trust readers to recognize these details on their own. Despite our inherent laziness, we want to exercise our imaginations and be involved in the story. Give your readers just enough information to experience your world–no more, no less.

Perhaps Foley didn’t trust the art to convey the story without narrative hand-holding. And that’s unfortunate because Robert Gill’s line art adequately illustrates the storyline. The narration hinders Gill’s collaboration in the sequential art form. Although some character poses and facial expressions were awkward, I was never confused about the scene. 

I really wanted to like The Praetorian, but frankly, it’s boring. The Praetorian completely lost my attention several times. I appreciate the world-building effort and the story’s fight-the-system sentiment. However, the book’s dry, overbearing narrative overshadows the potentially gripping tale of a gladiatorial-led, democratic uprising.

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