Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Nikolai Dante's final adventure

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Nikolai Dante (Rebellion, 2012).

The fifteen-year saga of Nikolai Dante finally came to a conclusion this summer. I'm really going to miss having that rogue, that thief, that devil-may-care adventurer with a heart of gold around.

Created by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, Dante starred in a wonderful and imaginative swashbuckling series set in the far-flung future of 27th Century Imperial Russia. Here, two warring dynasties struggled for control of an impoverished population. Dante learned early on that he was the bastard son of one of these powerful warlords, and fell in love with the daughter of the other. Politics, love and dysfunctional families drove the narrative just as much as Dante's love of adventure, gorgeous ladies, and, occasionally, spectacular crime.

Wrapping up his adventures meant tying up lots of subplots, and giving several beloved supporting characters one last chance to say goodbye before Dante finally got to walk down the aisle with his beloved Jena and take his place as the tsar of all the Russias. The final six week story, "Sympathy for the Devil," saw the bulk of the first episode letting half-brother Viktor leave the stage, and the second saw out his half-sister Lulu. With most of the other cast members dead or already wrapped up, that just left Nikolai and his best friend Elena left to deal with Jena's father, Vlad the Conqueror, who escaped from his prison earlier in the year, and to get that villain out of the picture and get Nikolai to the church on time.

But before Vladimir is ready to go, he wants to talk to Nikolai, man-to-man, about the corruption of power and how Vlad's once-noble intentions turned him into such a monster. And he figures that they should pass a gun back and forth and give the audience one last little familiar trope of Russian-themed fiction, with one bullet in the chamber. That too, of course. When the final collected edition of this series is released later this year - the eleventh, and apparently due in October - it will never equal the breathless, nail-biting thrill of the two cliffhangers set at that table with the game of roulette. Week five was unbearable; I've never wanted to pop ahead in time so badly, ever.

The conclusion to the saga proved to be instantly controversial. Not quite as many plot points were resolved as perhaps people were hoping (he said, saying as little as possible, unlike whoever typed up the character's page at Wikipedia!), although I think the most important and nagging ones were handled. For my part, I'd like so much to think that Nikolai would never let Vlad win by allowing those doubts to destroy his happiness, nor run, hiding, from the massive political challenge. I think the biggest clue comes from all of the narrative captions through the series that are written as excerpts from histories and biographies. Certainly Nikolai would deserve some attention as a major player during this time of huge upheaval, conflict and war, but I believe that it's what comes next that makes the man a critical focus for the historians and biographers of centuries to come. I'm also taken by the story that Vladimir tells Nikolai about having to execute his three closest friends, believing that one was a spy but never knowing which. I think that if anything were to motivate our hero into being an even better and greater man than Vlad, it's that right there.

For subjective and personal reasons, I've been attached to Dante since his April 1997 debut, and I will miss him a lot now that he's gone. I think that it has been a complete and roaring success from start to finish, and, now that it is complete, anybody who loves adventure comics should start getting the books. The current configuration is eleven titles (The Romanov Dynasty [Simon & Schuster's US edition entitled Too Cool to Kill], The Great Game, The Courtship of Jena Makarov, Tsar Wars Volumes 1 and 2, Hell and High Water, Sword of the Tsar, The Beast of Rudinshtein, Amerika and Hero of the Revolution all preceding the forthcoming final book), and your library does not need any other book from anybody else until you've begun these. Highest recommendation.


Cactus said...

That's a very good point about the historical narrative throughout the series. It reinforces the way I like to read the ending.

There's one thing holding me back from foisting Nikolai Dante on everyone I know: The Courtship of Jena Makarov is criminally out of print and commands silly money on Amazon. It's such a crucial chapter in their relationship and is where the series kicks into high gear. :(

David page said...

God yeah Rebellion needs to sort that out ASAP

Excellent look back on his last adventure Grant

Jerzu Jerzewski said...

I was thinking about what things would happen after the open way the series ended and there are three possibilities in my opinion

1/ Nikolai takes the possition as the Car of all Russians and marries Jena just to 'show' Valdimir that he was wrong, and that he's a better, stronger man then him. (looking at the way he waltzed his way from those reporters who asked all those boring political questions, and the free spirit he is i would be supprised that he'd would do a mature decission like that :)

2/ The humorus way:
Elena would force Nikolai to go to the altar as his 'best man' :)Like yanks say: A shotgun marrige :) (Elena was soo fixed about Jena and Nikolai getting together after the arc about how Valdimir orderd to kill Jena's mom. Hey, becouse of that Elena and Jena got close, and i belive in something called 'the solidarity of ovaries', guys know what i'm talking about:)It would be funny to see Nikolai growing bored of being a Car, and growing up to the responsebility of being one, hey deep down inside, under that happy go lucky mask, he is a grate leader, he showed it on numerous occasions :)

3/ He runs away to play rouge like always, Jena runs the buissnes as the Carina. At some point he starts to hound her again. She's angry at him...bla bla bla, and we have the regular soap opera like we had through the whole series :)

Either hands we had to remember that the white army wasn't dealt with :). We have a new, nice epic inter-dimensional war going in the background and i think in all three possibilities the story would have an interesting course.

At least it's fun to imagine, how it would work out :) You know you've read a superb piece of work when it keeps you thinking after you finish reading it :)

To be clear, i don't want the series to have a reboot. I like the open ending just the way it is :)
You have to say goodbye sometime :)

Sorry for my english, and a long comment like that, and thank You if you read it to this point :)