Created by Krad
Edited by Lantha
Genre: Dieselpunk, Dark Fantasy
“Diane Wiess thought being a dictator’s daughter was a rather cushy position, all things considered.
“…until demons threatened the southern border of Chandera, and riots began to consume the rest. Anticipating retaliation against his misdeeds, her father strikes a deal with an equally infamous mercenary company – the Iron Crown Brigade. Their mission: escort Diane out of the crumbling country into the safe haven of the powerful Imperium, and protect her at all costs.
“The demon of war bound by her mystical dagger – Keeper – complicates things.
“Iron Crown is an action-adventure story that was inspired from the question of: what would it be like for a dictator’s daughter to survive a coup, and what kind of life does she forge afterwards? What ensues is a high-octane story with a richly detailed world, wry humor, and a colorful cast of mercenaries that happily embrace Diane as family as she hunts for ex-Judge Abraxas – the one who started it all. Along the way, as Diane reluctantly confronts the shadows of her father’s dark legacy, and begins to piece together the enigma of Shard – the arch-demon and her shadow in the journey – as he faces his own bloodstained past.”
–from Iron Crown’s website
Iron Crown is a bit of a challenge for me. See, when it comes to analyzing stories, particularly genre ones, I try to pay attention to two parts of the narrative: character story and world story. Character story is about, well, characters: their relationships, goals, and journeys. World story has to do with the origin, geography, and socio-political makeup of the, well, world. The latter shapes the former, characters being who they are depending on where, how, and what part of the world their born in. I tend to think as long as I have a good grasp on the characters, I’ll eventually understand their world. Iron Crown is a dieselpunk, action/adventure comic that’s steadily pacing itself, so that both parts of the narrative unfold naturally and compliment each other. While this approach certainly has its strengths, the series exhibits weaknesses that keep it from being perfectly balanced.
The aesthetic of Iron Crown is something called dieselpunk. I know very little about that other than the Fallout and Mad Max series. Actually, I wouldn’t even call Mad Max dieselpunk. Mad Max is just Australia during the World Cup and everybody had one too many cans of Foster’s. For those of you who don’t know what this subgenre is, it’s kind of like steampunk; whereas the latter’s obsessed with Victorian England and Antebellum America, dieselpunk’s vintage area of choice is the 50s. It operates on the same principle of applying a past era with sci-fi elements My understanding of dieselpunk begins and ends there. While I do enjoy stories with that aesthetic, that doesn’t mean I am a fan of the aesthetic alone. I can’t really say much about it other than it looks cool. I don’t know, maybe one of you dieselpunk devotees out there can make a better judgment. Is it dieselpunk enough?
I’m more attracted to the dark nature of both the story and art. The first page is a quote from Edward Albee, and English playwright. It reads “Every monster was a man first.” That’s a pretty ominous tone to start off with. It had me anticipating a story where I would watch characters slowly descend into pure evil. So far, that’s not exactly happening, but the cast is morally gray enough to make it possible.
The comic begins with Captain Hardin, a military officer betraying Commander Weiss, the dictator of Chandera. Hardin does a good job of describing Weiss’ brutal, paranoid nature. Hardin was the only who could do the job because Weiss has a secret weapon that he’s willing to activate in case his enemies come marching across the border. By the end of the prologue, you’re completely on Hardin’s side. You don’t mind him conspiring with the enemy because the alternative seems worse. But then you learn about Diane.
Weiss does seem to really care about her, and even begs Hardin at some point not to hurt her. You would hope Hardin would be virtuous in his plans on handling her. However, his cryptic dialogue suggests that he tends to deal with Diane more heinously. Suddenly, you’re on Diane’s side, hoping she escapes unscathed. But then you actually meet Diane in Chapter One, and, well, she’s kind of a dick. She shows absolutely no qualms with her dad being Diesel Stalin. You could say though that, hey, she’s just a kid. She doesn’t fully grasp the evil of her father’s actions. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. And she seems to just want to escape with her father alive, which are reasonable goals. Furthermore, Diane lacks the penchant for paranoia and sadism as Motor Mussolini (I will cease with the dieselpunk dictator puns from here on out).
Then there are Izzy and Jo, two members of the Iron Crown Brigade. They’re quite lovable mercenaries with Han Solo’s rogue charm, Lara Croft’s badass posture, and the Atomic Blonde’s mastery of killing their fellow man. Although, in this case they’re mostly fighting formless black ooze, so they’re not that aggro yet. You get to like these two mercs so much, you almost forget they’re serving a lunatic dictator for money. Did I forget to mention they’ve clearly got the hots for each other? Queer media representation is always a plus!
These morally gray characters live in an equally gritty world. This is sadly not represented through detailed or just simply unique environments. A lot of the panels are close-ups and medium shots focusing solely on the characters. What is featured in the backgrounds is mostly blank space. I felt disappointed, honestly. I didn’t expect Moebius’ level of panoramic awe, but I was hoping for the dieselpunk aesthetic to be fully fleshed out.
Fortunately, Krad makes up for it in designing what images are available as gritty as hell. Through muted colors and the occasional ominous glow effect, the tone of the art matches the war-like, corrupt nature of the story. You feel this as thick as oil and blood. The best example of this is Chapter 2 when Diane finds herself lost in a large, dark room and meets the demon Shard.
This scene visually reminds me of the part in The Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins plays riddles with Gollum. Diane is darkness, and she’s negotiating with an alien lifeform that could easily rip her to pieces. It should be noted that Shard is similarly in design to the antagonistic demons. They’re formless, black goo monsters that can take on any form they please, some by what they imagine, others through attaching themselves to foreign objects. On one such occasion, a demon consumes a machine gun and turns into something like a Big Daddy from Bioshock, if the Big Daddy had rolled in sewage.
What really unnerves me about Shard and the other demons is that their design denotes the pure evil of their nature. See, evil can be palatable, relatable, and even understandable in relation to fully formed humans. If there’s a face to it, there’s a story behind to evil. They also have friends, family, and lives beyond their dark deeds. There is an inherent tragedy knowing someone can be human, but also evil. I mean, that’s the state of humanity. However, if the evil actions come from formless monstrosities, it’s harder to understand their motivation. The demons aren’t just evil, they’re evil reduced down to its sticky essence. It’s harder to explain why they’re evil. That lack of comprehension and, therefore, understanding, can make evil seem as vast, chaotic, and, to a certain point of view, meaningless as the universe itself.
In this regard, Shard is the most unsettling character because he’s such an enigma. Yes, he has an origin story that explains his animosity toward the Imperium, and why he wants to help Diane (so long as they work out a bargain), but you don’t really comprehend who he is as a being. He’s too alien to understand. He does take on a human like form, but it can be seen as just a way to get Diane to more easily agree to his bargain. There’s always an incomprehensible quality to him that’s suspicious.
With all the nice things I have said about the character story of Iron Crown, I have to address the world story. Krad is taking their time developing the world, its factions and conflicts, etc. However, they’re doing it while also balancing out action and character story. So far for me, it’s not really well-paced. The action and character stuff is great, but I still feel rather lost in understanding the world they live in. I don’t get Commander Weiss’ regime, his rivalry with the Imperium, etc.
Part of the issue is with Krad’s approach. When it comes to world-building, I notice a lot of indie comics take the esoteric approach. By that, I mean whatever exposition is given, storytellers, really, really try to have it done naturally, usually through dialogue. Now, this doesn’t mean a character stops the story completely to give a multi-page info dump. Normally, they talk about the world in a way where they’re dropping knowledge as it is relevant in context to their situation.
I can see why this approach is used. It’s way better than the wall o’ text approach superhero comics tend to have. Those suuuuuuck so much. I recently read a modern superhero comic that was like that, and man I wanted to down several bottles of beer just so I could toss them at the comic. As with all approaches though, it needs to be implemented well. So far, Krad doesn’t do that because so little is said, and in a way that seems confused. Like it wants to say more, but sticks to saying so little out of fear of trying the reader’s patience.
The irony though is that Krad does have a scene where a character delivers an exposition dump, and it has the exact effect that so many writers fear: it brings the story to a screeching halt. It does give Shard a proper backstory via a flashback with some of the best art in the comic. However, it’s still jarring for a comic that so far operated on an action-packed pace.
Another part of the issue has to do with Krad’s panel layouts. Most of the time, they’re solid. They have a lot of unique angles, and move and shake during action scenes in a way that immerses you. Unfortunately, there are some layouts that feel like they have panels missing, not decompressing out the action as smoothly as it should. I think this also affects the ability for Iron Crown to world-build. It can make those snippets of exposition seem more choppy.
If I were Krad, I would work on both panel layout, and also find more effective exposition techniques. There’s Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress, which after each chapter has a mock school lecture from a professor to help give insight into parts of the world. There are some comics that have prose sections after a chapter that also get the job done. Actually, I would be interested to see creators with their own worlds make Wikipages that give detailed explanations of each facet, kind of like an online Silmarillion.
Iron Crown is off to a shaky start with its world-building, but the characters are intriguing enough to keep me going. I hope to see more from the art soon, but when it hits the mark, it hits the mark. If you’re into dieselpunk, or sci-fi/fantasy worlds with complex morality, I highly recommend this series.
Read the comic: http://ironcrowncomic.com/
Follow Krad: https://twitter.com/kradeelav
Follow Lantha: https://twitter.com/koi_emperor