THE REALM #1 by Seth Peck and Jeremy Haun
THE REALM #1 is a fantastic opening issue, dealing with dark, gritty post-apocalyptic America using a serious tone and fantastic artistry. Seth Peck introduces characters to a large, interesting cast of characters to drum up interest in this teeming, living world.
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Journey into the Unknown
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A certain trend exists in Urban Fantasy stories. No matter what form the magical world takes, the mundane, modern world knows nothing of its existence. We’ve simply built our cities on top of their ancestral places of worship and moved on. The best example of this comes from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, where humanity attempts to replace the gods of old with shinier versions. Rarely do we see a magical world in revolt, one that strikes back at the modern world. In Seth Peck and Jeremy Haun’s THE REALM #1, though, magic refuses to stay buried.

After a mysterious cataclysmic event, orcs and dragons roam the streets of major cities, and magic has run amok. Will Nolan is one of the few men alive that knows how to navigate the wasteland that America has become. With this knowledge, he escorts bands of travelers through these uncertain lands for payment of food, medicine or ammunition. But when a crew of scientists conscripts Nolan for a cross-country road trip, will this mysterious soldier of fortune be able to survive?

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Aiding the Lost

Realm #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

THE REALM #1 opens with Nolan on the job. Hired by a local chieftain named King (trust me) who lives in a converted Costco, Nolan returns to the ruler with a young woman. Nolan was told this woman was King’s daughter. In actuality, King traded her to another clan as a sex slave for supplies, but when he didn’t receive his payment, he wanted them dead. Nolan, well known for his battle prowess, was hired on false pretenses. Despising being lied to, Nolan and the rescued woman kill all of King’s guards and King himself. After the dust settles, she takes King’s crown and control of his entire region.

After returning to home base, Nolan doesn’t have much time to rest. His dispatcher, Marcus, tells him that a new job has come in. A crew of scientists and two rangers, wishing to arrive in Kansas City alive, have hired Nolan for guard and navigation duty. But not all is well in the American wastelands. Evil forces are brewing. In a far-off, floating mountain, a sorcerer slashes a man’s throat to speak with his god. A human wearing a skull mask slaughters a pair of orcs. And something within Will Nolan himself seems anxious for control. As the journey into the realms begins, darkness crawls over our avid adventurers.

A Journey Through Dark America

Realm #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

Before I even opened THE REALM #1, I knew I would fall in love with this title. The cover features Will Nolan wielding a six-shooter and a broadsword, standing before a worn down city with dragons and mountains floating behind him. Not only is it an epic and beautifully post-apocalyptic scene, but in a time where cover art doesn’t necessarily match the interiors, it is nice to find a story where the art was all completed by only two men. Jeremy Haun (pencils and inks) fully captures the grimy, rusty, disheveled world of THE REALM #1, while Nick Filardi’s muted, earthy color tones help infuse this piece with a serious tone. THE REALMS #1 doesn’t depict magic as this boon to society. The orcs and goblins and sorcerers are all heavily inked and dark monstrosities. Never once did I feel that this is a world that I want to visit.

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This may sound like a negative aspect of the story, but in actuality, this perfectly rendered world hooked me for its uniqueness. Typically, no matter how dark and serious the tones of a fantasy world, there is always something appealing about the world building. The magic comes in bright, flashy colors in Harry PotterThe Dresden Files by Jim Butcher puts the reader at the heart of a robust magical community. But THE REALM #1 doesn’t try to do that. It wants readers to experience the gritty stakes of this post-apocalyptic America, and it does so by highlighting that easy answers don’t exist in this world. The only magic that appears comes with great pain and sacrifice. None of Gandalf’s giant eagles will swoop in to save the day. If they do, our protagonists will probably be dinner.

The Survivors of Magic

Realm #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

Sitting at the heart of THE REALM #1 is the brilliant band of characters. Will Nolan does fall into typical Urban Fantasy tough guy terrain, but by the end of the story, we feel a bond growing with him. His outward being relies on that same sarcasm that the genre necessitates, but it never feels overpowering. By the end, we realize that Nolan’s confidence stems from an over-compensation, a truly deep anxiety, and that character drive inspires a lot of early interest. Meanwhile, Molly, one of the two rangers of this team, only has moments to shine, but she does so in grand style. In typical fantasy grandiosity, Molly drops a massive charging orc with an arrow to the eye, all while laying her life down to protect the scientists.

The villains, though, really seal the deal for me. While the sorcerer and the skull masked human barbarian do seem to fit the ultimate evil archetype, they bare layers of interest. The hooded sorcerer isn’t casting age old spells to simply screw with the world at large. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that he lived in one of the floating mountains, I’d say he had nothing to do with the outside world. He simply uses his magic to speak with his god, who actually speaks back. While his overall motivations aren’t clear, this aspect creates a connection with the sorcerer that most villains don’t receive.

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Likewise, the Barbarian has almost no dialogue in this piece, but his appearance is haunting. He first appears while hunting a pair of goblins, beings far larger and stronger than him. However, they are afraid. The brutality of the act hinted at emotion, and inspired curiosity. There are no context clues, but there is something savage behind the act. It doesn’t stem from a lack of resources, but from anger. It sparks my curiosity. Where does this man come from? I would read a hundred more issues until I learned more about this man-monster.

Final Thoughts — THE REALM #1

THE REALM #1 instantly held my attention with its beautiful artistry and interesting cast of characters. The attention to detail in all aspects is astounding, and writer Seth Peck builds a world of deep intrigue. I have no clue where the story will go from this groundwork, but I will happily follow on the ride.

Peck does one thing that most writers don’t in an opening issue. Most devote the story to cementing the lead characters, briefly including other characters while solely giving focus to the protagonist. But Peck introduces a large cast. He states that the world of THE REALM #1 is teeming with living, powerful people. Each has as much interest and potency as the others. He allows himself room for his creative team to branch this story down a hundred different possible routes.

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