If you were going to write a dystopian fantasy comic, how would you create a post-apocalyptic world that’s more interesting than the next guy’s? Well, you could start with an invasion of evil orcs, throw in a mutant kraken and a few giant bats, stir in a mercenary or two, and sprinkle some magic on top. That’s the recipe for success in The Realm, Vol. 1, by Seth M. Peck and Jeremy Haun.
The Realm is set in the United States about 10 years after an orc invasion. Humans have banded together in fortress-like settlements bound by walls of stacked train cars. Travel between settlements is left mostly to fools and mercenaries. Enter Will Nolan, the main character who escorts paying customers across the dangerous wastelands. He and his helmeted partner, The Rook, take on a new job—guiding two rebel soldiers and two scientists to Kansas City.
Meanwhile, Eldritch, a power-hungry sorcerer, offers human sacrifices to earn power from his master and a council of flayed demons. In a seemingly tenuous alliance, Eldritch and the orcs fight the humans, easily overcoming what resistance is offered. But the sides may not be as unevenly matched as they first appear—the orcs fear a man they call The Beast, a red-bearded man in an orc skull mask who fights alone. Between him, warriors like Molly, The Rook, a boy with magic, and the scientists’ secret weapon, humans might find a way to fight back.
Haun’s art meters the pace of the action with telescopic perspective. Time slows for still shots of a world in chaos and decay, with dilapidated skyscrapers and weed-cracked parking lots. Then the action comes roaring back with a pitched scene of battle, capturing goblins and humans scrabbling to survive, thrusting spears, heaving axes, and swinging swords. Every so often characters are caught in silhouette, mid-bowshot or midstride through ruins, offering a pause for breath. No detail is overlooked, down to the recognizable silhouette of Kansas City’s Bartle Hall in a flash of the future.
The comic earns its M rating through violence and gore, keeping the target audience in a teen to adult range. After all, killing orcs is never a clean job, and the best kill shot is almost always going to be through the eyeball. There is profanity, but there is no nudity or sex. Despite being led by a white male protagonist, the cast varies in age, gender, and ethnicity, with strong female characters like Molly and The Rook.
Readers who enjoy East of West, zombie apocalypses, and a cocktail of J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King are likely to enjoy this post-apocalyptic comic. I also recommend watching the music video for “The River Divides,” a track off of the Me Like Bees soundtrack EP that was recorded specifically for the comic.
The Realm, Vol. 1
by Seth Peck
Art by Jeremy Haun
Image Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M