Review by Jamie McNeil
There are two titles for the same series of stories. The original title of The Courtship of Jena Makarov informs that the Tsarina Jena Makarov features greatly. She’s entering a strategic marriage of convenience into the powerful media controlling House Bolshoi in order to bolster Tsar Vladimir’s propaganda machine. For a woman of Jena’s stature there is always more than one admirer or jealous rival unable to bear the idea of someone having what they can’t have, and this includes a vulnerable Nikolai Dante.
The more recent re-titling of Love and War indicates a civil war large enough to rival the epic proportions of a Russian novel is threatening, while matters of the heart add to the mix. To ensure the compliance of the power hungry Romanov family, the Tsar appoints Dmitri Romanov’s bastard son Dante as Jena’s bodyguard, awkward because Jena claims to despise Dante and Dante hasn’t stopped trying to get into her pants since they met. Of course, this is Nikolai Dante so all hell is going to break loose.
The first half is incredibly funny as Dante postures and swaggers, cocksure and full of bravado. One of Morrison’s trademarks is to emulate famous scenes from films, copying cinematic dialogue in inappropriate scenes or just plain making fun of the genre’s influence on popular culture. Charlie Adlard is brilliant with a homage to the famous choreographed fight scenes between Harrison Ford and the late Pat Roach in the Indiana Jones films, getting the action spot on. His style is also perfect for a story where a forlorn Dante, in love with Jena Makarov, schmoozes the Ballerina Queen of the Danse Macabre with some very funny and deadly results.
Artist John Burns makes his Nikolai Dante debut introducing Nikolai’s piratical mother Katarina followed by a story of lovers in danger from a monstrous and brutal governor. The stories are serious with little humour, as Morrison shows Dante’s serious side, but Burns’ art is variable. Some character features are lopsided and out of proportion against some excellent backdrops, the right style for a more serious story, but it feels clunky and awkward. Simon Fraser returns for the last half of the book to begin the build up to Tsar Wars, with a mixture of well illustrated humorous action and dark political machinations that will illicit no confidence in real-life politicians and authority figures whatsoever. It’s a long book, but Robbie Morrison’s plot moves along at a brisk trot, scenarios playing out well among a sense of dread and intrigue forming in the background. Morrison has a gift for fostering a decent connection between the reader and the characters, some gaining your affection and others garnering a deep dislike. That he achieves this so quickly with new characters makes for a highly enjoyable action adventure with twists, turns and well placed developments aplenty.
The Courtship of Jena Makarov was the title on original publication and was retained for the 2005 2000AD Books reissue. It was republished as Love and War in 2014 and, while in a slightly different format, has exactly the same collection of stories although there is a noticeable difference in the printing quality and layout, the earlier printing a more aesthetically pleasing read.
The long-standing tensions between the Imperial House Makarov and the ambitious House Romanov come to a head in the two volumes of Tsar Wars.