BATTLECATS #1 - #5 by Mark London, Andy King, Michael Camelo, Alejandro Rinaldo, and Julian Gonzalez
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
If you are someone who enjoys some good lore, you likely will appreciate what exists of BATTLECATS. Unfortunately, there is nothing so far that sets this series apart from other fantasy tales. Still, BATTLECATS is brimming with potential. The creators of BATTLECATS have introduced a world of endless possibilities. The vastness of the universe created in this comic is exciting.
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NOT PAWFECT, BUT THERE'S POTENTIAL
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Mad Cave Studios’ BATTLECATS is an epic fantasy tale about a kingdom protected by five warriors who receive their powers from the planet’s moons. Although BATTLECATS has its flaws, the sheer ambition fueling this series sets Mad Cave Studios aside as an indie publisher to keep an eye on. BATTLECATS is written by Mark London with art by Andy King and Michael Camelo and colors by Alejandro Rinaldo and Julian Gonzalez.

Welcome to Valderia

BATTLECATS #1 is primarily responsible for establishing the lore of the universe. Buckle up, folks, because it’s extensive and proves to be important later in the arc.

In the universe of BATTLECATS, the Lion God is the creator of all life on the planet Valderia. After a period of evolution, anthropomorphic cats become the dominant species on the planet. As the cats continue to evolve, they begin splitting off into warring factions, leading to endless violence. That is until the first feline with a mane is born — Eramad.

BATTLECATS
Image courtesy of Mad Cave Studios.

Eramad learns that it is his fate to unify Valderia and then split the land into 5 regions, one for each warrior moon. And as a super swole lion-man, he totally accomplishes this and becomes king. However, a group called the Umbra Raiders is unhappy with their loss of independence. As the war with the Umbra Raiders comes to a peak, an oracle gives Eramad the Mark of the Fang, which grants him god-like powers.

After successfully defeating the Umbra Raiders, Eramad, an ever-responsible leader, decides this power is too much for one man — or cat-man — to yield. In the process of giving the power back to whence it came, part of that power splits into pieces and imbues Eramad’s closest cohorts with powers. However, Eramad makes them promise to never reproduce, so these powers will not be passed on. Good luck with that.

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Eramad II, Eramad III, and the Battlecats

When peace is finally restored to Valderia, the Battlecats, a group of warriors dedicated to honoring and following the king and the Lion God, are formed.

After Eramad dies peacefully, Eramad II begins his reign. However, unlike his predecessor, Eramad II isn’t drawn to the glory of war, and would much rather spend his time designing his castle. Unfortunately, Rorinclaw — a perpetual state of war started by the Umbra Raiders — breaks out during the reign Eramad II. The Battlecats bring this war to an end, no thanks to their king. Ashamed of his failure to lead, Eramad II sends himself into exile, and his whereabouts remain unknown. This marks the beginning of the Dark Ages, a time with no king in which the Battlecats maintain order.

Finally, Eramad III is born and guess what? He really loves fighting. He even punches a bear. Shortly after Eramad III assumes his rightful place on the throne, Valadar becomes the leader of the Battlecats.

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BATTLECATS #2 to #5

BATTLECATS #2  – #5 pick up in the near future, following the current roster of Battlecats: leader Kelthan, powerful magician Vaela, the taciturn and towering monk Zorien, gifted archer with exceptional sight Keleera, and the wisecracking bard Mekkar.

Eramad III sends the group to the Blood Canyons to defeat the Dire Beast. On their way to the Dire Beast’s lair, a smörgåsbord of baddies ambushes the Battlecats, including cohorts of Valadar. Eltoreq, who leads the onslaught, seemingly draws his power from a mysterious, newly appeared red moon. Along the way, we learn that Valadar is attempting to capture Vaela, presumably to harness her powers. After traveling through a snowy and mountainous landscape, the Battlecats arrive at the Beast’s lair and find this enemy surprisingly difficult to defeat.

BATTLECATS
Image courtesy of Mad Cave Studios.

In the midst of battle, Kelthan makes a shocking discovery — the Beast bears the Mark of the Fang. Disobeying Eramad III’s order to kill the Beast, the Battlecats drag the Dire Beast back to Stormholt to confront Eramad III. There, they learn the Beast’s true identity.

Meanwhile, BATTLECATS #5 begins to follow a group called the Darkats, who seem to wield some otherworldly powers, as they infiltrate Greenspyre.

More Lore in Smaller Portions

You can’t create a high fantasy universe without the level of in-depth lore presented in BATTLECATS #1. And the lore is definitely compelling. However, this information dump is a little bit tedious. For example, Valadar is now a villain. If you didn’t remember his name from BATTLECATS #1, you might not know that he used to be the leader of the Battlecats. It may have been a better strategy for BATTLECATS to lay out a little lore issue by issue. This way, readers could digest the critical information slowly.

The splash pages and dialogue-light battle sequences of BATTLECATS #2 – #5 are in contrast to this initial lore-overload. Although I found this refreshing at first, I slowly realized that important elements of the lore were left unexplained. For example, I’m still unsure how the Battlecats’ powers relate to each of the warrior moons. Also, what powers do they have? Do all of the cats have magical abilities? All of this information seems pretty essential to understanding the world of BATTLECATS and its main characters. And yet, it’s neglected in this first story arc.

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Cookie-Cutter Characters

The traits of the five Battlecats are pretty standard characterizations in fantasy media. Sometimes in the writing, I felt like the creators forgot what made their protagonists special.

BATTLECATS
Image courtesy of Mad Cave Studios.

Kelthan, the leader of the Battlecats, is by far the most compelling character. The most powerful moment of the first arc is when Kelthan is struggling with following orders or doing what he knows is right. I hope all the Battlecats eventually get the same rounded characterization that Kelthan receives.

I would really like to see the creators lean onto the universe they’ve built. The cats from different regions could be different breeds and have different characteristics like races in any other fantasy world. In fact, the concept art on Mad Cave Studios’ website seems to hint that this is the case. However, we’ve yet to see this fully fleshed out within the story. This is one more element of the universe to look forward to in the next arc.

About the Female Characters…

I definitely appreciate that there are two female Battlecats. However, their character design was really bothersome, particularly their faces. The female cats’ faces are much less feline than that of their male counterparts. Since they’re a little too human, these characters are teetering on the edge of the uncanny valley.

The female cats also have hair, human hair, on their heads. This doesn’t make sense in the context of the universe. Remember, the Eramads are the only cats with manes and that’s how we know they’re chosen to rule by the Lion God. So, human hair doesn’t count as a mane, I guess? I really can’t see a reason for these aesthetic decisions other than an attempt to make these characters “pretty” in a traditional feminine sense.

BATTLECATS
Image courtesy of Mad Cave Studios.

Ambitious Art

Still, artists Andy King and Michael Camelo swing for the fences. They do not shy away from huge action scenes or detailed splash pages. Additionally, King’s use of light and shadows, particularly in BATTLECATS #1, is pretty masterful. However, sometimes the visuals do miss the mark. For example, the use of motion blur in the action sequences can come off as amateurish when at other times this effect really works. Sometimes the scale of characters is hard to determine and seems to fluctuate. These artists clearly have all the skills to make a stellar comic, but it seems they’re still figuring out how to use them.

The page layouts in BATTLECATS are particularly noteworthy. The creators often utilize unconventional layouts of the panels and use the white gutters to contrast and structure the colorful chaos unfolding on the page. Although the art isn’t always consistent in quality, it is consistently daring. The page layouts serve as an example of this “no holds barred” attitude that permeates the visuals.

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Final Thoughts on BATTLECATS #1 – #5

If you are someone who enjoys some good lore, you likely will appreciate BATTLECATS as is. Unfortunately, there is nothing so far that sets this series apart from other fantasy tales. Still, BATTLECATS is brimming with potential, and the vastness of the universe created in this series is exciting. The creators of BATTLECATS have introduced a world of endless possibilities. I’m excited to see the creators utilize this potential as the plot continues to accelerate in the next arc. 

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