December 14, 2013

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion, issue 3 "Treason"

Dargon is exchanging gunfire with the Royal Guard while Pinsor drags a captured and struggling Regent Galken to the hidden chamber beneath the throne room. There, Galken is shocked to learn that Mantys - now revealing his real name of Mantor - is a Keeper, as Ancient technology is activated which shows the throne room in the capital of the Dark Domain, where Devora plots against Prosperon. Galken is stunned, but comes to believe these men, who are using the cover of treason so they can investigate and fight the Dark Domain while allowing Galken to publicly brand them heretics to maintain the peace. Galken begrudgingly agrees to do so, and he plays his part as he directs fresh guards after the running trio.

As they flee, they're joined by their Insectoids, as well as Zak and Stellara, who brush of the promise of further explanations as they stand alongside their friends. The group, now branding themselves the Sectaurs, escape the kingdom and throw off all pursuit. Once they find the time to settle down and answer questions, several of the group are wary of Mantor's status as a Keeper, but there's no dissent in loyalty.

In a cave in the Dark Domain, Spidrax and his half-sister, Scorpia, who is herself a Keeper, have been using Ancient tech to watch the apparent rebellion of Dargon and his men. The race is on with Spidrax renewing his pledge to find the power of the Ancient Hyves for himself before Dargon or any of Devora's other forces can beat him to it.

As the Sectaurs bed in for the night, a restless Dargon walks the perimeter. He discovers a band of marauders let by Skito moving in to attack, and the young prince gets the jump on them. Just as he appears about to lose, Parafly, a sentient, dragonfly-like creature who communicates through telepathy, swoops out of the sky and wraps around Dargon's waist, giving the Sectaur flight and night vision which allows him to drive the marauders off.

The rest of the heroes arrive just in time to see Skito flee, and they again set out on their quest for the Hyve. Parafly turns down an offer to join as he's nocturnal and the sun is about to rise, but Dargon sends him off with thanks.


First thing's first, I owe Tony an apology. Over the last few weeks, Tony did, on occasion, refer to our band of heroes as the Sectaurs. I argued that Sectaurs, like Visionaries, actually represented the cast as a whole, both good guys and bad, and was the name of the human-insect species on this planet. I made some tiny edits to this effect, and even emailed Tony a friendly reminder of this for future reference. However, while this may have been true of the animated series, the same is no so here, as our band of fugitive heroes does now clearly refer to themselves as The Sectaurs. So Tony, you were right, I was wrong. Sorry about that, man.

On to the comic itself, someone at Marvel must have agreed that the series, while not bad in its first two installments, wasn't quite clicking, because it went through a rather significant shakeup behind the scenes. Artist Mark Texeira is out, Steve Geiger is in. I quite enjoyed Texeira's work, with his fine figures and lush detailing, but I'll admit his layouts were clumsy and a little flat. Geiger is a bit messier, which heavier line work and clumsier figures, but the tradeoff is that his layouts are more dynamic and exciting, with a genuine sense of energy and flow to the story, and even the dialogue scenes have a sense of excitement which carries them as well as the action sequences. I'm not saying he's better than Texeira, just different, a comparison similar to the detailed work of John Buscema and that of his more dynamic brother Sal. And I'm assuming the shift in detail is due to the pencilers, because inker Joe Del Beato is still the same, and is just embellishing different styles.

The other big change is the editor. Previously, the book was supervised by Bob Budianski, a long time editor probably best known for his work on Transformers, where he not only wrote the first 40 or so issues of the initial comic, but named most of the characters and wrote their bio cards on the action figure boxes. The new editor is a bit of a legend in the field: Dennis "Denny" O'Neil. After bouncing around a number of the companies in the 60s, he settled in at DC and became one of the key figures in refurbishing the stale company as they moved into the bold and experimental era of the 70s. He took over Batman in a now legendary run, and also retooled Wonder Woman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow for new readers. After moving over to Marvel as an editor, he supervised Frank Miller's infamous run on Daredevil before jumping back to DC in the mid 80s as the guiding force of all the Bat titles.

Denny is a damn good storyteller and has good instincts for not only personal tales but shaping series for the long haul, and you can feel he and Mantlo going over this series and working out how they can give it a kick in the pants. And a kick they deliver as we open with this story off and running in an extended action sequence that runs for well over half the issue and lays the groundwork for the new direction the story will take. Initially, the series was more politically based, with the butting heads of Dargon and his uncle as they deal with whatever's going on in the Dark Domain and the religious persecution of Keepers. It was interesting, but it was dry, and did spend a little too much time dragging its feet in the setup. Now, with our heroes on the run from not only the enemy but their own people, they have a strong motive and the drive of powerful forces always at their heels as we enter the familiar yet welcome trope of a band of heroes off on a grand quest.

I love how we get there, through Dargon and Galken forging a plot of faux-treason to investigate the Dark Domain while maintaining the appearance of peace. I'd been worried about Galken's display of weakness in the last issue, but the sacrifice he makes, openly vilifying his beloved nephew, is very well played as he boldly and craftily sticks to his guns. I also like how Zak and Stellara see their friends being attacked by the Royal Guard and branded as traitors, and their immediate instinct is to dive in and help, damn the consequences of themselves now being seen as outlaws. It's chaotic, but Dargon promises answers once they're away, and he gives them, and I like that Mantor (I'm guessing the toy company didn't approve of the change to Mantys as he reveals his "true" name) openly explains to them that he's one of those feared Keepers, and that the constant propaganda leaves much of the group openly suspicious about he and his mystic skills (which do have more of a magical flare now, though they're still explained as advanced science).

I'll admit the shift in story between this issue and the last is quite abrupt, with the alarms and mad dash of the opening feeling like the ripping off of a band-aid, but it was a necessary one as the jolt immediately caught my interest, and the driving momentum kept me engaged as it pounded along. I also like the new elements that are added, like how Skito, the Zartan-like spy always lingering in the background, now has a Zartan-like band of marauders based in a swamp. Or Parafly, who quickly befriends Dargon and gives him wings, but can't join the party as he's nocturnal and their quest takes them again into the sun. Or Spidrax's half-sister Scorpia, a sorceress who counters Mantor by giving the bad guys equal access to the knowledge of the Ancients as she helps her brother in his quest for the throne. The only bit that feels a bit much are the crystal viewing plants which are mainly there as an easy device to breeze our characters through having to put certain pieces together on their own. But even then, it's used quickly before we move along.

Overall, this is a very strong issue, and a refreshing change of pace after the decent yet dry installment last week. The story has kicked into gear, and I'm thrilled to be along for the ride.


I like it when a book or movie brings you into a story that seems to already be in progress. It instantly engages you and forces your mind to hit the ground running to catch up. With the more pedestrian narrative groundwork already laid in the first two issues, "Treason!" does just that, dropping the pedal to the metal - or whatever the equivalent is on a giant insect - and never letting up.

I have to admit, of all the ways I imagined this story unfolding, this was not among them. While I was hoping - and actually still am - that Galken is in fact a traitor himself, I figured they would simply drag out the conflict between he and Dargon for at least a few more issues before the former realized, too late, that he was wrong. Dargon would then ascend the throne and blah-blah-blah, "For the Shinning Realm!" But this twist complicates everything in a good way. The cautious Galken is finally forced to make a bold move. Belana's feelings for Dargon are betrayed. Spidrax now has the impetus to make his move. If you'll pardon the pun, this is a web that has, in one way or another, ensnared all of our players.

My only real complaint, and it's a minor one, is how Stellara is handled. We obviously knew that at some point she would get her mojo back, and it's a fun moment when she arrives in time to save her old friend, but I was just hoping for something a bit more personal and profound to pull her off the bench and get her back into the game than what we get here. There's still the issue of her possibly tele-bonding with a new insectoid. Perhaps we'll get something more substantial there. Also, I really do hope they avoid a potential romance between Stellara and Pinsor. To me, he works best as surrogate father, not a lover.

Otherwise, this is a crackling good issue. It'll be interesting to see how long this fugitive angle will play out. It certainly seems like something designed to last longer than a few issues. If so, what a bold and interesting departure it will make from the standard heroes vs. villains style of storytelling so closely associated with this genre.

In short, Sectaurs just went from playing checkers to playing chess.

  • I really hope we get to explore the familial relationships between the villains in more depth. I'm intrigued by the fact that Skulk is Devora's step son and that Scorpia is Spidrax's half-sister. It would be a shame if those just end up being throwaway details without any payoff.
  • I also hope Belana's personality is fleshed out a bit more. For that love triangle to work, we've got to care about all three of the characters. At this point, she's a little too flat for that storyline to have the necessary spark.

We'll be back next weekend with another Sectaurs adventure: "Stellara's Choice".

In the early 90s, writer Bill Mantlo was tragically struck by a hit-and-run driver and left with a debilitating brain injury and insurance woes, all of which are chronicled in this moving article. If you've enjoyed Mantlo's work and would like to contribute to his ongoing care, please consider a donation.

1 comment:

Tony Williams said...

Normally I'm not one to argue on the rare occasion when someone tells me I'm right. However, I have to say that no apology is necessary here. If I *am* right, it's on a technicality at best, dumb luck at worst. Thank you, though :).

Either way, they did a piss poor job of making this clear in both formats. They should've followed the lead of something like Transformers; a name which covers both the good guys and the villains, but where each of those groups had their own unique moniker as well.