The Shame hardcover collects all three parts of writer Lovern Kindzierski (Tarzan), artist John Bolton (Books of Magic), and letterer Todd Klein’s (Sandman) fantasy saga featuring archetypical characters such as Virtue, Shame, and Slur. It is a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy story (Apologies to Mr. West.) and a true showcase of Bolton’s talents as a watercolor artist even if its gender politics are of an older age with plenty of gratuitous ass shots and creating kind of a virgin/whore dichotomy between Shame, who enjoys sex, and Virtue, who is innocent and “pure”. The three graphic novels tell a tale as old as time about the battle between light and darkness with a messed up family dynamic caught in between. Think Electra complex as Shame transforms her mother Virtue from a happy nun into the receptacle of her demon spawn child.
Even if I didn’t really connect with the characters in the Shame trilogy, the world that Kindzierski and Bolton have created is quite captivating as they combine elements of Grimm Fairy tales, old Red Sonja comics, Heavy Metal Magazine, and C.S. Lewis/George MacDonald type allegories to craft a unique world of beautiful nymphs, creepy rhyming shadows, and constantly perturbed peasant population. Bolton is skilled at showing both the beautiful and the grotesque as the nymphs that Virtue sends to protect her daughter Shame from her evil father Slur and his minions have a celestial, Pre-Raphaelite vibe with spring colors following through their bodies. But eventually, as Shame begins to grow into her evil birthright, they become twisted like Slur and his minions. The first volume “Conceptions'” color palette also gets progressively darker and sexier as Shame seduces an Incubus to get human semen and have her mother Virtue reborn as a child so she can imprison her like Virtue did to her as a child. Again, the family dynamics of this comic are quite messed up.
When Bolton goes grotesque, it is quite a treat. His design and Todd Klein’s lettering for Slur and the Shadows for are reminiscent of the work of The Maxx‘s Sam Kieth as well as that artist’s early horror-tinged work on The Sandman. Kindzierski adds to the eeriness of these creatures by giving the Shadows rhyming dialogue recasting this fairy tale trope in a horror setting. Bolton makes them silhouettes, which contrasts greatly with the photorealism of his figures and the richness of his background setting whether it be the woods or a ruined castle. They twist and bend and are easily his most sequential work. Their and Slur’s pliable shape show that they are willing to do whatever it takes to rule the entire world through violent and manipulative means as their effect on Shame, Virtue, and the world around them can be felt stronger during each volume of the story.
Kindzierski and Bolton excel at beginning each volume with a strong, distinct start without piling up unnecessary exposition to explain the time gaps between each one. Sometimes, a simple costume change will suffice as Merritt, the “Chosen One”/white knight character, looking more like Louis XVI in the zenith of his decadence instead of Sir Lancelot or even Westley from Princess Bride. Or they can plunge the readers into an immersive action sequence like the start of “Pursuit” where Virtue, who is now a young woman dressed as a hybrid of Red Sonja and Leela from The Fifth Element is on the run from Shame’s goons. There is a lot of leaping and dynamism in Bolton’s art as she evades monsters and finds shelter. She represents rugged survival in the face of great evil while Shame is pure decadence in her dominatrix threads.
Except Virtue doesn’t end up saving the day. In Shame‘s third volume “Redemption”, Kindzierski and Bolton fall into the old cliches of a male chosen one character saving the day even if he has been portrayed as a naive nincompoop up to this point. Merritt makes Frodo Baggins or First Year Harry Potter look like Seal Time Six as he decides to lose his armor and warhorse before wandering into some mysterious thorns. He also completely falls for the fact that Shame says she’s oppressed by her father Slur when she’s actually in cahoots with him. In “Pursuit” and “Redemption”, it seems like Kindzierski is deconstructing these cheerful hobbit type heroes that save the day for some reason or another and will let the ultimate survivor/magical badass Virtue. Except she gets the weird pregnancy/magic light plotline while Merritt freaks out about blood and gets to wield the magic sword. Bolton excels at showing Merritt’s struggles and his doughy body compared to the beautiful forms of Shame and Virtue, but the character is heroic just for the sake of the plot and really has annoying personality and zero street or any kind of smarts. And somehow he gets to be the big damn hero.
Iffy gender politics and fantasy cliches aside, the Shame trilogy is the pinnacle of painted comics storytelling as writer Lovern Kindzierski sets artist John Bolton loose on this fantasy/horror/fairy tale landscape and uses a variety of water color and brush techniques to depict everything from beautiful women and fashionable, sexy outfits to sinister eldritch beings and creepy castles. The comic is a true testament to his captivating imagination, and the ending teases a new character with loads of potential.
Story: Lovern Kindzierski Art: John Bolton Letters: Todd Klein
Story: 6 Art: 10 Overall: 8 Verdict: Buy
Renegade Arts Entertainment provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review