Review by Jamie McNeil
In 1902 Cuba has been free of Spanish shackles for four years, yet her American liberators show little sign of moving on. Cuba’s beauty and fruitfulness has made some American businessman very wealthy, and despite promises of a democratic election, some Americans are interfering. They believe it would be better for Cuba, and their pockets, if she were the 46th US state. If elections do proceed, an American puppet governor seems likely, but some Cubans remain hopeful that democracy will prevail as President Theodore Roosevelt is keen on a peaceful transition of power to the Cubans. Others are convinced violent resistance to the American occupation is the only solution, but developments take a sinister turn when the dead begin returning to life. Roosevelt commissions the SPOOKS’ to be sent to Cuba with a mission to neutralise the rebel Santero (Voodoo) priest Islero. SPOOKS leader Morton Chapel has a mysterious and intimate knowledge of Cuban culture, so things should go fairly smoothly. IF his team listens to his advice and his benefactor is honest about his own motives. As things go south, the team learns the hard way to trust their leader’s instincts. Just because they don’t believe in the occult doesn’t means its power and influence is diminished.
Christian Rossi’s art gives El Santero a wonderfully eerie atmosphere, one that intentionally sets out to confuse. The purpose is to make the reader, like SPOOKS operatives Katherine and Joey, doubt reality. Did we see what we thought we saw? Rossi’s panel placement facilitates this and while the confusion can be frustrating at times, you have to admire his genius. The early 20th Century period style is fantastic, the gun battles and cavalry charges superbly rendered. Emotional nuances of pain, fear and lust shine on the page. Writers Xavier Dorison and Fabien Nury’s narrative feels disjointed in places, but since this adds a further ethereal quality to the tale, its likely an intentional device. The art and writing provide a cinematic quality, abruptly shifting attention to other characters or developments. It works well for the most part, but again it can be disorientating. It’s best to remember that the entire series of six books are in reality three stories with two halves each. El Santero sets up the plot while The 46th State ties it all up. Things make more sense if the second half is read in quick succession, a tactic best used for the entire series.
El Santero looks stunning and is well researched, giving this alternate history a believable quality. When the action gets going it becomes quite the action thriller. The clever cliff-hanger sets up an action packed conclusion in The 46th State.