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.