Last summer at San Diego Comic-Con International, I met artist Don Aguillo while he was signing copies of The Sequels written by Norm Harper (Rikki) and published by Fanbase Press. At the time, Don shared some pages from his portfolio which gave me an inkling to his incredible skill as an artist. So, I jumped at the opportunity to review the first five issues of his series, Rise, published by Scout Comics.
Rise follows the story of Zakaiah, a recently orphaned nine-year-old princess from the kingdom of Pacifica. As dictated by tradition, the young girl must undergo a series of tests known as the Trials of the House of Jasser and will test her preparedness to occupy the throne. Zakaiah is not alone; she is accompanied by a core group of individuals who are enduring their own personal struggles and secret agendas. Zakaiah and her group encounter an ancient evil shadowy force, and closer to home (the seat of the kingdom), a trio of Ternion officers vie for power.
Aguillo is the creator/illustrator of this Earth-bound, post-apocalyptic fantasy that is the backdrop for Zakaiah’s coming-of-age/hero’s journey story. Aguillo dedicates his first issue to laying the foundation of Zakaiah’s kingdom and the world. As a result, issue one includes quite a bit of narrative exposition of a once-great kingdom in decline and on the brink of destruction. Some readers may find the first issue narrative-heavy; however, it is time well spent in developing the epic feel and weight of Zakaiah’s journey as it unfolds in issues two through five.
With world building well established, Aguillo expertly populates the kingdom with thoughtfully flawed characters. Although a young character, Zakaiah has a rare, but believable, ring of maturity which is critical, because the majority of the supporting characters are adults with years of experience (and baggage). This is one of the core strengths of Rise, and Aguillo does not disappoint. Zakaiah is joined by cleric/sage Balthazar, General Junayd who brings a military facet to the team, the inventor Frix Atilio, and the distant/reluctant motherly Senka. Balthazar and – to a lesser degree – Junayd are particularly founts of wisdom and insight into the human condition – the primary theme of Rise.
Aguillo’s artistry on Rise is absolutely gorgeous and wholly brings Zakaiah’s journey to life, blending the wispy romanticism of the art nouveau artistic style with the fantastical world of Aguillo. The layouts, colors, and lettering merge together so well, complementing the narrative, yet also delivering beautiful visuals. Easily, these images could become storyboards for a television show or a film. Truly, Aguillo delivers and exceeds on every element that makes a comic book series appealing to readers: from important themes of humanity, analysis of eroding civilizations and power vacuums, to incredible visuals (layouts, colors, lettering) – all of these elements lead to Rise being a story that matters.
Although this story features a young main character, this is not an all-ages comic book story. Pre-teen readers will need some adult mediation regarding the content, but teens and adults who enjoy epic fantasies – Lord of the Ring for example – will be attracted to Rise. The phenomenal visuals are eye candy and an excellent example for artists in training who lean towards this artistic style.