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‘Sacrifice:’ Advance Hardcover Review

If you haven’t heard of writer Sam Humphries and artist Dalton Rose’s Sacrifice, or haven’t picked up any of their completely self-published issues in your independent comic-supporting comic shop, or caught them on ComiXology, then it is time to finally right a grievous wrong. Luckily for you, Dark Horse Comics is making your penance easy, by collecting all six issues of this spectacular miniseries into a single deluxe hardcover book. Even better for you, it is chock full of sketches, character designs, and variant covers. Those extras though are merely a portion of your reward for undertaking Sacrifice’s mystical, mind-bending, ancient, and blood-soaked journey. The majority of the reward is found in the wildly original story, unique, almost at times transcendent art, and the elaborate execution, in more ways than one, of the whole project. Intrigued? I’m sure you are, as you should be.

The hero of this journey is Hector, a troubled, Joy Division-loving kid who has an intense interest in Aztec history, and who also suffers from severe epileptic seizures. It is one of these seizures at the very beginning of the story that transports Hector to a time when the Aztecs were powerful, flourishing, and neck-deep in the practice of human sacrifice in order to curry favor with their gods and ensure their civilization’s continued prosperity. Hector arrives before the coming of the Spanish, and being from the future, he knows the Aztec Empire only has so long until it is destroyed completely, and now he will have a front seat to, in his opinion, one of history’s great injustices, unless he can stop it.

Now, if you fear I’ve given away too much, fear not – I have merely skimmed the surface of the multi-layered, historically rich, character-driven bounty that Sacrifice has to offer. The plethora of emotions that Humphries brings out of Hector’s interactions with the ancient Aztec society, and his own historically-prescient knowledge and beliefs, intermingled with his present-day troubles, gives the story a strong emotional core, and makes Hector a complex, flawed, and incredibly human character. The various friends, enemies, and hierarchal figures that Hector meets are well-defined and both historically and creatively developed. Rose’s art creates one of the richest, most intriguing representations of the Aztecs that I have ever seen. The character designs are totally of Rose’s own making, his characters blocky and stoic, but filled with a visceral life that ebbs off the page. You can see the fear, anger, and sadness in his character’s eyes, and they are impassioned and driven, even though their motivations may at times be misled, or laced with menace. Rose’s backgrounds are also spectacular. I gloried at every splash page and two-page spread, each one impacting the story, instead of truncating it.

The art and imagery in this book are powerfully individualistic and gorgeous. Add to that Pete Toms’ mesmerizing colors, full of bright, almost uneasy blood-reds, oranges, and yellows that capture the height and twilight of the Aztec Empire, and a whole palette of sensory-inducing psychedelic swaths of color that create some of the most fluid, terrifying, and ethereal visions that let you experience Hector’s seizures from inside his own mind. These elaborate and metaphysical scenes are largely based on Humphries’ own experiences as an epileptic, making this story and Hector very personal to Humphries, which comes across in the storytelling in a powerful, intense, and sometimes tragic way. Humphries, a rising star whose star I believe has already risen and now is skyrocketing, created and wrote the independent, originally self-published, runaway hit Our Love is Real, has written Fanboys vs. Zombies and Higher Earth for BOOM! Studios, and is the writer of The Ultimates, Uncanny X-Force, and now Avengers A.I. for Marvel, among other titles. As for Rose, his star is also on the rise, creating Phabula and drawing Theremin for Monkeybrain Comics.

Humphries and Rose bring a raw and pulsing sensibility to comics, which flourishes throughout Sacrifice. This story is epic, historical, violent, personal, and unexpected, and by the end you practically feel as if you’ve had the creative wind knocked out of you, in the best of ways. Sacrifice takes your breath away and keeps it until the final panel. There was no sacrificing creativity, imagination, or talent for Humphries or Rose on Sacrifice. Instead, they both give the book their all, and their inspired hard work and dedication shows on every page. They’ve created a new history, born of the old and infused with the new. There’s no human sacrifice needed, so just open your eyes and let their vision pour into your mind.

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