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Fanboy of Fear Chris Gage Review by
Chris Gage
RUSE #1 and 2
WRITER: Mark Waid; ART: Butch Guice
$2.95 each.
CrossGen comics

RUSE is much more mystery than horror, but according to our home page, mystery is within the Feo Amante purview, so here goes! I should say up front that, before RUSE, I had never picked up a CrossGen comic, largely because the epic fantasy genre (which comprises most of their line) isn't really my cup of tea. But advance press for RUSE piqued my interest: Sherlock Holmes style mystery; more self-contained than the company's other books; so I gave it a try. I'm very glad I did.

RUSE is set on an alternate world, in a city called Partington that greatly resembles Victorian England, but with certain bizarre differences, like the diminutive, living gargoyles that flit around the city creating a nuisance (more sinister behavior is revealed in issue #2).

The ostensible hero of the book is Simon Archard, a brilliant detective in the Sherlock Holmes mold whose overdeveloped intellect is inversely proportional to his underdeveloped emotions. But the real protagonist is Emma Bishop, Simon's partner (in her view) or assistant (in his). To most people - Simon included - Emma is a gal Friday whose main job is to say "That's brilliant!" when he solves a baffling case. But like a certain line of early '80s toy robots, there's a lot more to her than meets the eye. Emma has supernatural powers (although using them seems to risk her forfeiting some kind of cosmic game she's involved in). She can freeze time, function on a different dimensional plane, and communicate with a strange, disembodied voice that seems to be monitoring and evaluating her progress in trying to draw Simon's dormant emotions out of their shell. Emma's true nature and motivations are an intriguing mystery that makes me want to pick up future issues to find out more.

What really makes this book work is the top-notch creative team. Writer Mark Waid (JLA) has created a well-conceived world that is at once familiar and exotic. His characters are multi-faceted and well-drawn. Simon could have easily been a lame Holmes knock-off, but he comes across as a fascinating, arrogant, brilliant enigma who always knows more than he's telling: like the truth about the horrible fate that befell his last partner. Emma is likeable, at once mysterious and easy to relate to. The villainess, Miranda Cross, ruler of a far-off nation who is relocating to Partington, is appropriately brazen, cold and calculating, with a sharp, condescending tongue. She seems to possess the same powers Emma does, as well as the ability to mesmerize the city's men and bend them to her will (she can bend me to her will any time! I get the feeling readers of Crossgen's other books might have an insight into where Emma and Mirand's powers come from, but what I like about RUSE is that you don't need to read those titles to understand and appreciate the story.) The art by veteran Butch Guice is finely detailed and shows the result of meticulous research: probably the best work of his two-decade career. I don't know much about inker Mike Perkins, but his work here complements and enhances the pencils perfectly. Laura DePuy's coloring is excellent, as she has already demonstrated on titles like THE AUTHORITY.

If I have any complaint about the first couple of issues it's this: for me, half the fun of reading a mystery story is trying to solve the crime before the hero by using clues the writer has provided. There hasn't been much of a chance to do so thus far (understandably, as the writer is busy setting the scene and introducing characters). I hope there will be more opportunities to do so in future issues, as Waid has shown himself to be more than capable of crafting interesting conundrums in the pages of JLA. I also hope the witty banter between the characters doesn't go overboard: this type of story works best when there's a proper air of mystery and danger around But, like I said, these are minor gripes. The creators do exactly what's necessary to successfully launch a new series - introduce a fascinating world and tell a story that makes me want to come back for more.

I give RUSE four rabid fanboys and look forward to revisiting it down the line when the story has progressed further. If you've never picked up a CrossGen comic, give this one a try.

Review copyright 2001 by E.C.McMullen Jr.

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From the screenplay by our own
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Ruth Fletcher Gage.

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