Alpha Shade: Chapter One
by Joseph Brudlos, Christopher Brudlos
(Alpha Shade, 2005)

Alpha Shade began life as an online comic, but Joseph and Christopher Brudlos always hoped to publish in print. With Alpha Shade: Chapter One, they're one chapter closer to that goal.

Alpha Shade is certainly ambitious enough to make the leap. Occupying genre territory somewhere between steam punk and science fiction, the book focuses on the war between the Southern Empire and Northern Empire, as seen through the eyes of Commander Laura Stone and her small part of the Southern Empire's army. The war is fought with tanks, guns and telepathic cats. Dragonlike flying birds provide the main air force of the world. But average soldiers charge into battle with nothing but old-fashioned guns and cloth uniforms, and communications seem limited to mail and word of mouth. Laura Stone seems oddly progressive in the midst of all this but, before any of the scientific contradictions can be explored, an attack by the Northern Empire and an assassination attempt on Laura's life take center stage.

The art in Alpha Shade is suggestive of animation, with simplified characters and flat, broadly shaded colors. The linework is engagingly rough, though sometimes at the cost of fine details. In print, some of the backgrounds designed for web viewing seem oversimplified. But the colors are well chosen, carefully subdued to create the feel of a dusty, World War I-style battlefield. Artist Joseph Brudlos is unusually daring with his lighting effects, and almost always to good effect. The characters are all immediately recognizable, without resorting to color-coded hair or unique costumes.

Pretty and engaging as it is, Alpha Shade: Chapter One has some problems with pacing. The main story takes almost 100 pages, but hardly covers a single morning's attack in the war. The supplemental background material shows evidence of some serious world-building and the suggestions of a far-reaching and complicated plot, but Chapter One is too focused on explosive action to give more than a taste of the depth in the story. But that taste of depth is tantalizing, and Christopher Brundlos' parting word in the book shows an eagerness to get into the deeper parts of the story.

Alpha Shade is freely available online, so those who don't want to invest in the paper version can see what they're missing at no cost. But the art and layouts are attractive enough to warrant the larger format of the print version, especially for the action-driven first chapter. Give Alpha Shade a look online; then give in and pick up the book. It's worth the closer look.

by Sarah Meador
26 November 2005

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