Night’s Dominion #1
Written & Illustrated by: Ted Naifeh
A few pages into Night’s Dominion #1, I got very excited. There is a scene in a pub where the Bard goes around the table and starts naming out the cads he has recruited, adding a descriptive adjunct that essentially equates to their class. It made me feel like I was reading some of those old Dungeons and Dragons novels, and I thought that was the feel that writer / illustrator Ted Naifeh was going for. But later in the issue, there is a sharp turning point. A panel where, if you’re not holding on when he throws the wheel over, you might literally be thrown right out of your seat. I know I was.
Night’s Dominion is the tale of a band of thieves who come together to make a grab for one of the most sizable troves of treasure believed since the time of Crom himself. I throw in the “Crom” bit just to let you know that the setting for the series is high-fantasy (although there is no Crom or any other association with the cannon of Conan). Think Conan the Barbarian, but as we go over the highs and lows of the book, you’ll come to understand the additional special sauce that flavors this particular mash-up of genres that yields a pretty spectacular flavor all its own.
Issue #1 is a fairly standard “assembling the team” kind of issue. One major thematic take-away is that you can see that Nafieh is going to mix in about 70% drama with 30% comedy, which is just fine for me. Comics of late have tended to skew towards a 90 / 10 mix, with one side of that split getting the 90. This has led to some way overly dramatic comics, or ludicrously comedic, despite the often serious and dire situations of the heroes involved. Here’s to hoping that we are heading into an era of more balanced tone; Night’s Dominion looks like it is going to be a positive step in that direction.
So there we are, in the pub. We nail down that this is a fantasy heist-tale, likely to be complete with characters scaling walls with ropes. We get the gist of each character’s role in the upcoming heist; Cleric, Magic-user, Thief, Bard, Assassin. We even start to perceive some sense of alignment of each. Lawful Evil, Lawful Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Chaotic Good. Cool. I’ve definitely got my D&D cap on at that point. Some subterfuge; some characters are not what they seem. Like any good D&D writer, Nafieh then starts fleshing out the politics of the town. A few exposition scenes of talking heads between the thief and the assassin to establish more of the factions in the locale. Then, while we’re sipping our mint Julip, Nafieh knocks us upside the head with a big panel featuring a character that looks far more like something from Lee and Kirby than Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s an exciting beat in the overall narrative of issue #1, and it quickens the pace of the heart, your eyes flitting over the page, and the reader’s overall curiosity for what comes next.
Nafieh’s art strikes in at a point that is a skosh below my appreciation for his writing. He’s in a tough spot. Not only is he taking on the fantasy genre, but he is also trying to draw faces that are ethnically appropriate to the region and the story. This results in some inconsistencies from panel to panel. None of them are particularly jarring, but it is noticeable and creeps above the threshold where it goes unnoticed or can be ignored. Overall, the style is definitely reminiscent of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which gets its signature look from artist Kevin O’Neill.
There are a few spots where foreground to background focus and scaling seem a bit off; a character that is in the background seems too large proportionally, in comparison to characters that should be closer to you on the page. And there are a couple of panels where Nafieh’s style looks a bit too cartoony and breaks style with the rest of his drawings. It’s almost as if there is a style he is trying to repress or as if he did a run of that cartoony style and it creeps back in unintentionally from time-to-time. Still, overall, the smoky colors, brownish palette, and ethic touch to faces, costuming, and architecture makes this feel firmly rooted in a fantasy setting. There is no questioning that.
There have been some strong openings for limited series this year in the tier 2 publishers. The Killer in Me. Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 2. Nafieh’s Night’s Dominion stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them. I’m not sure that I am going to have room to sneak this into my pull list, but I will be looking in on it from time to time. And I’ll definitely have an eye out for the trade. There was a time that we got a lot of genre-specific content in this setting, now there is very little of it. Or if we do get it, it is overly gimmicky or too traditionalist. Nafieh has stricken a great chord with a genre mash-up that is enticing in its premise, and very sharp in its execution. I cannot wait to see more.