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Free Comic Book Day 2013: Aphrodite IX #1
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Aphrodite IX #1Aphrodite IX #1
Written by Matt Hawkins
Art by Stjepan Sejic
Letters by Troy Peteri
Top Cow Productions, Inc.
Release Date: May 4, 2013
Cover Price: FREE!

Spring time is in the air, which can only mean one thing: Free Comic Book Day is upon us! To celebrate the occasion Matt Hawkins, the writer of Think Tank and Cyberforce who also moonlights as COO of Top Cow, is resurrecting Aphrodite IX from the vaults.

With a vague reference to a war-torn past of scarred atmospheres and moon colonies, Aphrodite IX #1 introduces us to a post-apocalyptic setting that’s equal parts fantasy, sci-fi, and cyberpunk. What little area of the planet is still habitable has been divided into two rival camps: a drake-riding, theocratic monarchy and a futuristic, totalitarian society of cybernetic-enhanced humans. A strain on the planet’s limited resources forced these two factions into battle.

Marcus and Lina ride their drakes into a raid on the cyborgs. After a successful attack, things take a turn for the worst and Marcus’ drake, Glamrung, takes a fatal shot and crashes into the mountains of the Desolate Zone. There Marcus discovers Aphrodite, a green-lipped cyborg who doesn’t remember anything about herself other than her name. When more cyborgs attack, she instantly realizes her immense strength and fighting abilities and saves Marcus from certain death.

After they escape off to Marcus’ homeland, the cyborgs investigate the area and uncover Robert J. Burch, Aphrodite’s handler. He explains that she’s a genetically-modified, cyborg assassin designed to seduce, infiltrate, and kill. In fact, Marcus is already showing telltale signs of infatuation with Aphrodite, much to Lina’s dismay.

Writer Matt Hawkins mixes a lot of necessary pipework to build this complex setting, but it’s not an info dump. The story never gets bogged down into unnecessary details “” just enough to get readers’ imaginations pondering this world and its history. Hawkins is a veteran writer who skillfully worldbuilds while simultaneously establishing the key players. By the end of this issue, readers have an indication of the main characters’ motivations as well as a high-level grasp of the philosophical differences between the two warring factions.

Anyone who has seen a Terminator movie will immediately draw parallels to Aphrodite’s mission to infiltrate and assassinate. Other than the unique setting and the green lipstick, there’s a few other twists about the character that we learn. Much is still to be revealed about Burch’s and Aphrodite’s true motives. Matt Hawkins slathers on layers of juicy conflict in this first issue with an ongoing war, a possible love triangle that could approach manga-like robot-love territory, and a psychological struggle between Aphrodite’s free will and Robert J. Burch’s level of control.

Aphrodite IX #1 was my first exposure to artist Stjepan Sejic‘s work. No hyperbole: I put this experience on par with seeing Todd McFarlane’s Spawn #1 or Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come for the first time. I’ve never seen anything quite like it; frankly, I was mesmerized by Sejic’s near photorealistic blend of high fantasy and sci-fi art styles. I keep going back to just take it all in. His characters are highly detailed and richly textured, yet maintain a rare fluidity and naturalness. In some panels, Aphrodite looks like a top quality cosplayer. And no words can do justice for Sejic’s drakes. After reading this comic, I indulged in Sejic’s deviantART portfolio and took in some of his Photoshop and ZBrush tutorials. He’s simply a genius at digital art and may just be my new favorite comic artist. Mindblowing work.

Comics like Aphrodite IX are what Free Comic Book Day is all about. This top quality issue kicks off what could be another homerun for the boys at Top Cow. Any fantasy/sci-fi fan, which are practically all comic fans, should be instantly drawn into this series. My only quibble is the lack of an appendix with Matt Hawkins’ background research “” he went and spoiled fans with Think Tank.

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