By Dustin Cabeal
I have always been a sucker for samurai stories. As the years have gone on, I tend to stick with the ones coming straight out of Japan, but I still check out a variety of other tales told by creators that like myself, enjoy a good samurai story. It’s just that it’s rare that they’re enjoyable or not filled with Wikipedia notes and definitions.
Isabellae stood out because of the cover. The striking image of a red-head sitting on a pile of bodies intrigued me almost instantly. What instantly made Isabellae work where other similar stories have failed, is the supernatural element. The story is quick to inform us that Isabellae is searching for her sister and has been for seven years. Some event in their life has caused her sister to disown her and as the ghost of her father informs her, to seek her sister is to seek death. Did you catch that? That’s right, Isabellae isn’t technically alone in her journey as the ghost of her father rides along with her and at times seems to be in control of her horse.
Eventually, we learn that Isabellae is a bounty hunter, putting her fantastic sword skills to work against evil people. One such bandit is reasonably handsome and escapes her sword, which costs her half her bounty. From there she crosses paths with a monk and his disciple. This is the “putting the band together” moment in which the escaped bandit shows back up, and the trio fights off wolves and self-proclaimed warriors that have no honor.
There is an interesting amount of religion in the story and not just from one belief system. With the monk, Buddha is brought up a lot and presented to the audience. Then there’s witchcraft with comes from the flashbacks involving Isabellae’s mother. Lastly, when the Night Man is introduced Christianity is included as well. Religion finds its way into a lot of comics, and it usually feels cheap or out of place, but here it had a sense of belonging to the story. It also made it feel like the real world with more than one religion touched upon.
The story is well-paced, but it’s undoubtedly the beginning of a larger narrative. The narration could be confusing at times because it wasn’t clear which character was talking. Eventually, you figure out its Isabellae and her father, but even other times its as if another party is narrating. The dialogue is superb and very believable. There were still a few spots in the story that seemed out of place until the context was introduced much later, and one spot, in particular, was just after a flashback which confused me on the timeline. Eventually, it all makes sense, but in the moment, it can be confusing. Otherwise, the character development for Isabellae is powerful. She’s a fully developed character by the end of the volume having gone through an arduous emotional journey.
The artwork is incredible. It’s beautiful, gory, but not disgusting gore. The action sequences are easy to follow, but never go on for too long. They’re perfectly paced and give you just enough action to enjoy. There’s a lot of dialogue and chatting, but the artwork kept everything exciting to look at. It didn’t suffer from “talking heads” syndrome. The coloring is vibrant and incredibly detailed. There’s a tremendous amount of lighting effects that give the art an animated feel, which plays into the movement of the action sequences as well. It’s the type of comic you want to read a second time just to look at the artwork.
As I said in the beginning, I read a lot of samurai stories, but when they’re not from Japan, they tend to be off-putting and stereotypical. Isabellae is refreshing, exciting and full of boundless elements that set your imagination on fire. Not only did I want to re-read this volume upon finishing, I wanted to read more of the series in general. Which means you can look forward to more Isabellae reviews in the future. In the meantime, you can check it out on the izneo platform, which is where I received this review copy from.
Isabellae vol. 1 – The Night Man