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The other comic I picked up at Free Comic Book Day recently was the anticipated relaunch of Aphrodite IX. This is another book by Top Cow and features previously seen characters… but not by this reader. I am coming at this title with a fresh set of eyes, never having read its predecessors at all. That said, even though I have no background on this character, I have high expectations and hopes for Aphrodite IX partly to the quality of stories being turned out from Top Cow at every corner but also because of who is involved with the creation of this book.

And I will say this: I was not disappointed.

Matt Hawkins creates a tale here that starts from scratch. Do you need to know anything before picking up this issue? Absolutely not. (Which is good because I didn’t.) In most comics when you get an intro page that has text, it summarizes the last few issues to get new readers caught up. The same effect is done here in about 3 sentences – it sets the tone for what I should expect but gives nothing away. Instead, the story jumps right in and leaves the reader to discover what’s going on through the issue. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic time, which places it completely separate from the rest of Top Cow’s offerings. There is no concrete connection indicating whether this story is in the future of the current Top Cow universe or completely disjoint of it; after reading the issue I could argue either scenario. I am leaning towards this being a future universe, though, not only because we know everything changed in the pages of Artifacts but also because of the ad within this issue for an upcoming issue of Cyber Force which has what appears to be Aphrodite V. (Remember – this book is Aphrodite IX.) When you see the ad side-by-side to the page itself, even though the imagery is by different artists you know it’s the same character. Regardless, Hawkins has gone a completely different route from what I mostly associate him with – pure science in the pages of Think Tank, also by Top Cow. It’s nice to see a writer have the ability to successfully pull off 2 different dynamics and pull them both off quite well. The characters here are well written and are very multi-dimensional; they aren’t your typical “Hey I survived the apocalypse and I would have gotten a t-shirt if any had survived the disaster” style – far too many of those stories have flat characters. You wouldn’t be disappointed as a result of this story.

So I’ve talked about Hawkins’ story. And it was a great story. But I’ll be honest – even if it wasn’t I’d be picking up the title just for Stjepan Sejic’s art. I discovered his work only recently in the pages of Artifacts and I was hooked. What he delivers is, without a doubt, gorgeous. The detail in the work, the emphasis that arises due to the painted work… I honestly cannot praise this guy’s artwork enough! And as this story has the fantasy elements within it, Sejic is definitely within his realm. (For those who have not picked up Ravine, a fantasy story plotted and artistically done by Sejic and then scripted by his colleague Ron Marz, you need to go find that book. If you’re into comics for the artwork alone you will most definitely not be disappointed.) With his style, you can tell who each character is by looking at them – there is no confusion. Not only that, but the detail on the dragon-like creatures is amazing, and the fact that he has a knack for hitting the right lighting points as well… Seeing just the silhouette when the sunlight is behind the character streaming in, with just a little bit of detail (you know, what you’d expect to see if you were shielding your own eyes and trying to look at something with a light source directly behind it)… Breathtaking.

OK, I’m done gushing. But I cannot say enough about the art and the story.

So what did I NOT like? 2 little things, and they are minor – so minor that I leave the rating still at a 5. First, the lettering. Now, it’s not the style of the lettering at all. This is not a knock against the letterist Troy Peteri at all. It’s more the fact that the bubbles surrounding the characters are too bright. “Well, of course they are,” you may say; “They are the words of a character!” And where I would normally agree with that, the darkness and the dismalness of some of the scenes are so impactful that the brightness of the word bubbles is too much. Even though the narrative captioning is in green – which makes sense; look at the main character’s hair and the decoration on her cheek – it’s still a tad bright for what we see in some of the pages.

The second thing was that this was a #1. I don’t mind what Marvel did and used their FCBD title as an entry point to their upcoming event; it was a prologue more than anything. I almost would have preferred this issue to be similar to that style and, although the issue is a prologue for the upcoming series, it’s most definitely to be continued in issue #2. I know many small comic shops have to be limited in what they order for FCBD and at my store I got the lost copy of this title. And the owner had to look to make sure he had some left after all. I think that many readers will be missing out on this first chapter in the story as a result, and I think that’s a shame. Yes, there’s always the trade, but hopefully Image and Top Cow will release this in a 2nd printing format, even if it costs the reader a few bucks. I was lucky enough to snag a copy; I know there are probably others out there who weren’t so lucky.

But as you can see… my dislikes are minor. If you can get a copy of this book, do it. Even if you don’t plan on picking up the series, get this issue. After reading it and taking in the visuals, I think you may change your mind and will plan on picking it up regularly.

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