I’ve read a lot of vampire and werewolf fiction in my time, and the tropes and conventions sometimes get a little bit monotonous after a while. So when I heard of this- a werewolf story set in Ancient Africa, centring around the attempt of two brothers to escape Alavert and to get to Nubia, I was sold. How cool is that? Especially since in any book set in the ancient world, Nubias often little more than a kingdom that’s invaded by Egypt.
First and foremost, I absolutely have to mention the art work, and it is truly worth the price of admission. It has this really gorgeous way of rendering spaces, and its art style gives a feel for the time. I mean take a look at this:
The watercolour, the bright colours, the reflections on the marble and the detail on the plant life really bring to life the opulence of the Egyptian palace. It’s not just this page- the entire book Is this well drawn and it’s an astounding experience. Clearly a lot of hard work and research has gone into creating an authentic looking ancient North Africa. As for the werewolves, they look a great. Take a look at the one below.
The harsh black lines against the lush green forest really do lend it a primal, ancient nightmarish feel. The author said that because werewolves aren’t really part of ancient African mythology, he combined the wolf with some other creatures to make it more fitting, and it looks intimidating. Its build is strong like a lion, and its little mane and tail remind me a bit of a hyena- but either way, it’s all predator and truly is the monster that frightened us as children.
So many different styles and colors have been experimented with in this issue, and it’s an artistic marvel. Because of this, I would strongly recommend it to absolutely anything, as this artwork you won’t see anywhere else.
As for the story telling, it’s okay, and Paul Louise Julie has the talent but is still coming into his own. The story of this issue is pretty simple- two brothers are part of a group of Nubian assassins who are slaves (albeit highly exulted ones who get to live in a beautiful palace and are given a lot of wine, women and privilege), and they want to escape. It’s a pretty decent start, and introduces us to the world and gives us a basic outline of the two brothers- ones more serious and wants to escape, the other’s more on the fence but gets thrown into things- but its downfall is it’s told in a needlessly convoluted way.
For some weird reason, we start off not at the beginning, but at events which take place near the end of the first issue, which is still close to the beginning of the saga. Worse still, we constantly cut between the two events. All it means is that what’s a pretty simple story becomes harder to follow and we’re constantly pulled out of the action of both events- the brother’s escape or Khenti’s capture- when things start to heat up, and it’s harder to get caught up in either of them.
There is no good reason for this. I mean, the whole point of this technique is usually as a way of giving it a feel of inevitability and tragic foreshadowing- like with Blood Brothers, where we’re shown that the story’s going to end in tragedy so that even during the happier scenes, an air of ominousness hangs around and we’re watching carefully to see how they build up to the tragedy. The same is true with Madoka Magica, and even Moulin Rouge, which used whiny one’s (I forget his name even though I’ve been forced to watch it so many times) retrospective narration to tell us that this is going to be a tragic love story.
Here, there’s absolutely no point of this- what is it meant to foreshadow? That there’s going to be conflict and werewolves in it? Well, it’s called The Pack and it tells us it’s about werewolves in the description on the site, so there’s no need to tell us that. Is it because the writer feels they need a way to hook us? It begins (chronologically) with an assassination attempt- that’s action enough.
Also, there’s the bizarre plot hole that although the older brother keeps on saying that he wants his younger brother, when they escape the palace he splits up with him for no reason and says ‘see you in three weeks’. Why do they split up to go to the port to take them to Nubia? I know, story wise, why it was necessary to have them separated (so the younger brother-Khenti- can meet the wolf) but there’s no good reason for them to. They were both together and were both going to the same place, and splitting up would just increase the risk of losing one another. It was contrived.
What really needed to happen, storywise , was for the older brother- Nekhet-to give his younger brother instructions on what to do if they got separated, and for them to be put under pressure by pursuing Egyptians and for them to lose each other in the chaos. This is an important plot beat that was skipped, and as a result that moment just left me scratching my head.
The other problem is the character designs; they work fine and the simplicity makes them more reminiscent of ancient art, but most of the time the characters are heavily obscured by dazzling light or dark shadows.
Can you really tell any of them apart? I can’t. It could get really difficult figuring out who was speaking, and I had to reread and reread certain parts to figure out who’s saying what. Also, I thought the person narrating at the beginning was the older brother when in fact it was the younger brother.
Honestly, the story’s there, the writing has promise, and the art and concept are both absolutely perfect, but it’s not quite there yet thanks to some shakey execution. However, one of the big problems- the needless and convoluted framing device- is going to be out of the window in the next issue, and from what I’ve seen with his later work on Yohance, his skill at the craft does improve, so I have hope for future issues and am definitely down for the ride.
VERDICT: This graphic novel is absolutely worth checking out. The concept of a werewolf story in Ancient North Africa is utterly original, the art work is one of a kind and worth the price of admission alone. The execution of the story so far is a little shakey, but it’s the first issue of the author’s debut series, so there’s plenty of potential for it to get better as the author settles into the writing.
For a look at The Pack Part 1, click here.