Last month, Vertigo Comics began another new series, this time with a very different twist to pretty much all of its other titles. The Royals: Masters of War is a limited series set in a world where members of royalty the world over have superpowers of one sort or another. The purer the bloodlines, the stronger the powers. Written by Rob Williams and drawn by Simon Coleby, this series is one of the finest comics I’ve read to date. The first two issues have been nothing less than spectacular and the only way forward for these creators is to go up, up, and up.
The first issue introduces us to the conflict raging in Europe, the first World War, which forms the backdrop of the entire setting. European royals have an unspoken treaty not to interfere in the conflict, but it is not so easy to stand by when your armies are getting slaughtered and the enemy is at the gates. As happens for the British royals. And in the second issue we see an increased world-view as the British royals travel to America seeking an alliance with the, ahem, colonists, and what follows when Japan intervenes. While the writing is beyond good, the artwork has been even better in both issues.
Quite unexpectedly, The Royals: Masters of War is a story about self-discovery and identity. Our primary protagonists are from the House of Windsor, the British Royalty. Prince Henry, featured right there on the cover, is the actual protagonist while his sister Rose and elder brother Arthur round off the trinity of scions of the House of Windsor. They each have distinct personalities, and distinct attitudes in life. In the first issue, we see how these differences put them at odds with each other, to a greater or lesser degree, and how their family is shaped by these differences. Particularly since their patriarch, Albert, lacks any superpowers but is undiminished in his political power and in his status.
The setup by Rob Williams is quite masterful in the first issue. He quickly introduces readers to the conflict in Europe and how Britain stands to lose, given all the technologically advanced forces being thrown at the British by the Germans. While men die on the battlefronts, whether on ground or in air or in the sea, the royals are all off partying, because of their global agreement to not interfere in the conflict.
Of course, if the story shows that there is this one rule that cannot and should not be broken, then the protagonist(s) will ultimately break that promise. Which is where Henry steps in, and he is quite the wonderful character himself, full of hidden depths and a strength of character that puts his other family members to shame. But, his change in heart is a bit too plot-driven and could have used some more build-up I think.
Nevertheless, I think Rob does a great job of introducing all the characters and showing how they are all in conflict with each other, whether they know it or not. And that is at the heart of the first issue. The Battle of Britain is the microcosm in which Henry and the others are going to distinguish themselves and it is here that the scope of Rob’s storytelling is really going to become clear.
On the art side we have Simon on the art, with J. D. Mettler doing the colours and Wes Abbot doing the letters. In keeping with the story, the art too is frantic and fast-paced. But that doesn’t imply any negativity because the artists all match the vision of the writer in the comic. The overall atmosphere with Mettler’s colours fits the World War 2 narrative while Simon’s art in itself proves to very detailed and nuanced in its own way. His characters are realistic, and there is always some kind of action going on in each panel. And there are lots and lots of great moments here for set pieces that convey the overall look of the era.
So overall, the first issue means that the series is off to a great start, and I definitely loved it.
Released this past week, the second issue goes for a much wider scope of the conflict, as befits the World War 2 setting. With the Battle of Britain having gone in favour of the good guys thanks to Henry’s timely intervention and leadership, it is time for the British forces to take some time out and for Prime Minister Churchill to personally go to the United States of America to seek help from his friend and ally Franklin Roosevelt. And he brings with him the three British scions to make for a stronger case of support for Britain. But not everything happens as planned because Japanese royalty has also seen fit to enter the war, and the Emperor of Japan has cast his dice in the conflict in support of the Germans and the Axis Powers.
More than any of the primary characters, I loved the character of Roosevelt. A man without powers but a leader of his people and his only care being their safety. Quite a stark contrast to the British royal patriarch who sits on his throne and watches as his people die and his country suffers, all without lifting a finger to help them. But perhaps he is the wiser of the two because he truly understands what he could unleash should he do what was actually necessary. And this is where the Japanese royals make their presence felt, because their entrance into the conflict is a direct result of Henry’s own intervention.
Or maybe the Emperor was just inclined that way. Who knows really. As his son says to Henry, the Prince’s actions in Britain were quite inspiring.
As with the first issue, the new one too is about identity and self-discovery. The leaders of Britain and America have to decide who it is they are fighting for, what they are fighting for, how to fight for all of that. For Churchill, it is all abundantly clear. For Roosevelt, he still needs that inciting moment, the moment where America joins the World War and turns the tide of battle. Or so the histories tell us, and the histories don’t matter so much where The Royals: Masters of War is concerned. Rob Williams is using the broad strokes that we are all familiar with to tell a new and interesting tale where the global superpowers have actual superpowers in their arsenal.
Additionally, this issue also had the funniest moment in the series so far. The Americans lack any royalty so they, typically, turn to the next best alternative: the cream of their sporting athletes, and turn them into The Allies, a cover superpowered team made up of characters with nicknames that are hilarious, such as The Flag. Lots of laughs were had. The moment broke the otherwise grim nature of the story, so was doubly welcome.
And the art continued to be good as well. No moments at all that I would point out as negatives.
So all I can say to this team is: keep trucking on! You guys are all doing fantastic here!