SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE

Claudio Sanchez is a brilliant writer that blended his music, personal life, and other interests into the amazing space opera comic series THE AMORY WARS. In this article, I’ll go over the entirety of vol. 1 of SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE — the first arc of the series and the counterpart to Coheed and Cambria’s first album. If you have no idea what this is all about, check out my primer on the artist, band, and series here.

SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE, at its heart, is about family. Like STAR WARS, most of the story’s characters’ relationships connect to the leading family, the Kilgannons. A lot of the story’s conflict stems from Coheed and Cambria Kilgannons’ past. Said past makes them the targets and unwilling pawns in the grand machinations of Supreme Tri-Mage Wilhelm Ryan, ruler of most of Heaven’s Fence. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Befitting the beginning of this wonderful series, we’re gonna start at the beginning of SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE.

SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE takes inspiration from the lyrics of the album of the same name. This first album is rough around the edges, and so is the comic, but those imperfections are worth appreciation. I respect their tenacity in crafting a uniquely creative sound and story and sticking to their guns. Claudio Sanchez and Coheed and Cambria grew together. Over time, both the music and the comics improve in objective quality, but no matter where you jump in, you should be impressed.

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Issue #1

The story of SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE begins with a rather cryptic framing device. Six years after the colonization of Silent Earth: 3, rebel leader Inferno, with the aid of his personnel, incinerates someone. In his monologue, Inferno horrifyingly calls his victim a “failed prototype.” While this is a pretty striking start to the story, it proves to actually be really confusing. It took me years and many read-throughs to figure out that this opening is actually a framing device. The scene actually takes place in the future of the next arc IN KEEPING SECRETS OF SILENT EARTH: 3. Claudio doesn’t make it that clear here. The series has multiple narrators, further compounding the confusion.

Moving on, we see the introduction to the entire Kilgannon family. If you started with page four, you might not even realize that this comic is a space opera. The Kilgannons are a seemingly traditional nuclear family living in what looks like an American suburb. However, this is meant as a facade to trick both the reader and the family itself. We meet Coheed and Cambria (mother and father), Josephine (eldest daughter), Claudio (teenage son), and the young twins Matthew and Maria. They’re enjoying a typical family breakfast in a contemporary suburban house. However, this isn’t Earth, but Hetricus, a similar planet.

Home Is What They Make Of It

We then get a few pages of exposition. One of the most original aspects of SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE is the world building. Heaven’s Fence is a unique solar system. It consists of a giant triangle of 78 planets and seven stars, divided into 12 sectors, all connected by the Keywork, which are beams of energy. Among Heaven’s Fence are three main races — humans (the tillers of the land), the Mages (powerful rulers of each sector), and the Prise (space angels in charge of guarding the Keywork). Though not too much is shown, this setting clearly has an unseen depth tying it all together.

SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

The plot kicks into motion with the introduction of General Mayo Deftinwolf. Hew meets with the oblivious Coheed and explains the past of the anti-terrorist unit called the K.B.I — The Knowledge, The Beast, and The Inferno. Coheed, Cambria, and Inferno were not born but created 42 years ago by Dr. Leonard Hohenberger in response to the Mage Wars and Supreme Tri-Mage Wilhelm Ryan’s rise to power. Allegedly, Dr. Hohenberger infused Coheed with the “monstar virus” which could snuff out the stars and break apart all of Heaven’s Fence. Coheed and Cambria’s memories were tampered with so that they would not be a danger to Heaven’s Fence or themselves. Unfortunately, the virus has spread to their kids, and to protect Heaven’s Fence, they must do the unthinkable.

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A Classic Tale of Betrayal

Thus, SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE begins with a brutal act befitting Euripidean Greek tragedy: a mother and father must murder their children for resisting a megalomaniacal despot. This is but one aspect of Wilhelm Ryan’s plan for total domination. This mad emperor’s nihilistic machinations will be the backbone of the series, the ever-present threat of losing everything and everyone.

I gotta talk about a very problematic point — the gang rape of Josephine. After her fiancee, Patrick, takes her to an abandoned warehouse, a biker gang assaults the two, raping Josephine. I’m not gonna say you can’t have a rape scene in your story — rape is a real thing that happens and hiding it in media won’t make it go away. However, it needs to be treated with the gravity it deserves. Josephine gets one page before the assault, and immediately after Coheed kills her. The rape isn’t a motivating factor for anyone’s character, and the bikers never get what they deserve. The only link this scene has is that its based on the song “Devil in Jersey City” — which isn’t actually about rape either. The rape could have just not been in the story and absolutely nothing would change.

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Issue #2

Issue #2 begins with the conclusion to that problematic scene — Patrick takes Josephine home, where Coheed and Cambria had just finished poisoning their young twins. Josephine embraces her mother while Coheed sneaks up behind her and kills her with a hammer. Patrick sees this and runs away.

In the next scene, we transport to Dil-Ariuth IX on the other side of Heaven’s Fence. The Prise have deigned to walk on the planet’s surface to speak with one of the coolest characters in SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE — Mariah Antillarea. Unfortunately, we don’t get to learn anything about her until the next issue. However, you can tell she’ll be of great importance — naked levitating women with glowing eyes usually are.

SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

That Was Quick

Back on Hetricus, General Mayo Deftinwolf reveals his betrayal. He subdues Coheed and Cambria with a platoon of Red Army troops. Coheed and Cambria realize very quickly that they’ve been duped into killing their kids. I’m still kind of incredulous that they would be gullible enough to kill their own children like that — with hardly any hesitation. I’ll chalk that up to their brains getting tampered with when their memories were wiped. The issue ends with the arrival of the first of Wilhelm Ryan’s twisted minions: the Onstanatine Priests.

This chapter expands the scope of the story immensely. While we learn about Heaven’s Fence in the first issue, we don’t actually see anything that otherworldly until Mariah, the Prise, and the Onstantine priests come in. I appreciate Claudio’s decision to ground the home of the Kilgannons in reality. This allows the reader to more readily identify with the characters’ struggles. However, when the story zooms out to the other side of space, we get this feeling of awe and vertigo. A world so different coexists with one so normal, yet it doesn’t feel poorly executed in the slightest.

Issue #3

The third issue begins with Claudio, the last Kilgannon child, returning home after a spending time with his girlfriend, Newo. Of course, he ends up seeing the bloody aftermath of his sister’s murder in the kitchen. He’s able to briefly revive Josephine with his mysterious new powers, revealing that they are a harbinger of something of galactic-level importance. Its one thing to turn someone into a zombie or a monster, but actually reviving someone with their mind intact is pretty special.

There isn’t too much focus on what triggered his powers, but I’ll accept that the shock of seeing his sister was a strong enough catalyst. The power to resurrect someone from the dead is a pretty big deal. Unfortunately, Claudio must flee from the savage monster in his now broken home. He never was even able to see the remains of twins before escaping. He gains two more powers on his way out — the ability to become invisible and intangible. These mostly defensive powers foreshadow Claudio’s impending focus on his own preservation.

SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

The Hunt For Patrick

The Onstantine Priest on Hetricus couldn’t find Claudio, so he went after the witness to the murders — Joesephine’s fiancee. Immediately after Pat buys a gun at a shady bar, the priest attacks him and kills everyone else inside — yet somehow Patrick still makes it out alive. Considering how no one really mentions Patrick in the same prophetic way they do about the Kilgannons, I never really expected him to last very long.

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Finally, we get back to the meeting between the Prise and Mariah and hear some cryptic taunts about the Mage Wars. Mariah is the last Mage still holding out against Wilhelm Ryan and thus the leader of the Rebellion. Oddly enough, Mariah isn’t a gross blue man with weird shoulder spikes like Ryan and all the other Mages. The comic never provides an explanation. It honestly makes the whole story much more confusing for a first-time reader. Hell, I know of fellow Coheed and Cambria super-fans that never realized Mariah was a Mage. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t end up being too important, but understanding what she is really recontextualized her character arc. She uses magic very sparingly in the series, so it’s easy to forget she’s not a normal human.

Confusing Contradiction

Her appearance says a lot about her, especially in comparison to the other Mages. In a single panel from the first issue we can make out all of the Mages, and whether this was intentional or not, all twelve were pictured as the same type of creature. Mariah, on the other hand, looks like a human — an immaculate one perhaps, but still she resembles those she leads. As the leader of the Rebellion, it’s important to see her as one of them — someone to lift them up rather than controlling them from above. It’s unclear how she gained her appearance, but the reasoning behind it is easier to see.

In the middle of the meeting between Mariah and the Prise, Inferno literally appears from behind a curtain in order to confront the supposed guardians of God’s will. Inferno reveals the darkest secret of Heaven’s Fence: the Keywork of energy that keeps all 78 planets in place is powered by the spirits of the dead. The revelation that all spirits agonize in the afterlife foreshadows some of Wilhelm Ryan’s most vile and sinister machinations.

This form of afterlife is honestly the most terrifying to me. I can deal with a heaven and hell, and I can deal with nothingness. However, being tormented for eternity after death, with nothing you could have done in life to stop it, is nightmarish to me.

As the issue comes to an end, we see Claudio make his silent farewells to his girlfriend as he prepares to leave the planet for good. On the Gloria Vel Vessa, Coheed and Cambria recall the memory of the antidote inside Josephine. They awaken enraged, setting up the coming bloodbath.

Issue #4

The next issue is lighter on plot than the last few but, in exchange, we get some awesome action scenes. Coheed and Cambria break out of their confines on the Gloria Vel Vessa and fight the Red Army troops on board. In the process, Coheed’s arm transforms into a laser cannon and Cambria lets loose her Jean Grey Phoenix-esque powers. I find that their new abilities fit the characters really well. Coheed is the Beast and his own body is a weapon, while Cambria is the Knowledge and her mind is the weapon. Pretty basic stuff but its well-implemented, especially how the couple works off each other better than most brain and brawn partnerships.

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Rising Threats

On Hetricus, the Onstanantine Priest lures in Patrick and readies to kill him. There are two important plot points amidst all the action. The first is that the Onstantine Priests are revealed to have once been the other Mages, but they were mutated by Wilhelm Ryan’s experiments. Secondly, as a cliffhanger for the next issue, Wilhelm Ryan demotes General Deftinwolf after Coheed and Cambria break out. Ryan replaces Detinwolf with the imposing Admiral Crom.

SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Considering how this issue focuses less on the plot, let’s talk about what an IRO-bot is. Both Coheed and Cambria are a type of cyborg and finally exhibit their full strength. From what I can gather they were made from scratch like androids, but are partially organic. When Coheed tears off the skin on his arm, he discovers a metal robot hand that then transforms into a gun. As for Cambria, she doesn’t seem very robotic at all. Psionics and cybernetics usually don’t go together, but IRO-bots are a special breed. The fact that Coheed and Cambria had children naturally means that IRO-bots are somewhat human. I have to give props to Claudio Sanchez for taking a common trope — the very human-like android — and putting his own spin on it.

Issue #5

The final issue of the first volume opens with the Onstantine priest killing Patrick. I’m honestly surprised it took this long considering Patrick is the only normal human in the entire series. Elsewhere on Hetricus, we get a far more striking scene of Claudio stealing a gun and then sneaking onto a garbage ship in order to escape off-world. Little does he know that he will be no safer at its destination.

Back in space, Inferno and his ship, the Grail Arbor, manage to intercept the Gloria Vel Vessa. As he opens communication with the ship, Inferno finds out Coheed and Cambria have taken over the bridge. However, the ship is on autopilot and if they land on Earth, then certain doom will follow. If they land planetside, Deftinwolf will be able to activate the Monstar virus in Coheed. This will thereby trigger the destruction of Heaven’s Fence. If the couple are unable to override the ship, Inferno must blow them out of the sky for the safety of Heaven’s Fence. The Red Army officers aboard the Vel Vessa agree to help Coheed and Cambria stop the autopilot. Yet, when it proves to be more difficult than expected, Cambria destroys the engine core.

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Losing Yourself

At first, I felt that it was really odd that Cambria would lose control like that for no reason. As soon as an issue arose, she struck the core with no hesitation. For someone called “The Knowledge,” Cambria did a pretty dumb thing. The fate of their lives and those of everyone else in Heaven’s Fence are at stake, and Cambria lost her temper, destroying a delicate piece of machinery and basically dooming everyone. On the other hand, Coheed and Cambria are pretty aggressive. Both were used as pawns to murder their own children and, soon, all of Heaven’s Fence. I’d be pretty pissed too, to be honest, but still. Time and place Cambria, time and place.

On Dil-Ariuth IX, Mariah Antillarea gives a rousing speech to her rebellion as they prepare to take the fight to Wilhelm Ryan’s stronghold — House Atlantic. However, the Red Army preemptively strikes them, all but wiping out the resistance forces. At the same time, Deftinwolf checks in with a certain Dr. Durvine and the flies. We get our first look at said flies — the dragonflies from the SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE cover and one of Coheed and Cambria’s band logos. While we still don’t know what exactly they can do, it’s clearly sinister. The sickly yellow and black color scheme along with the chaotic-looking swarm held back only by glass is intimidating, to say the least.

SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

New Beginnings

We also learn that the prophesied one in the sacred text, the Book of Ghansgraad, is the only being strong enough to destroy everything Wilhelm Ryan had built. Of course, that chosen hero is going to be Claudio, because who else would it be? Not only does he share the writer’s name, but Claudio is in the perfect position for a coming of age and heroes journey story. The issue ends with a return to the framing device six years in the future. Inferno wakes from his troubled sleep as the Grail Arbor approaches Silent Earth: 3 — the new base of the resistance.

Final Thoughts on SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE vol. 1

The first volume of SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE is a bombastic start to THE AMORY WARS series. Claudio Sanchez successfully defines the personalities of each character, while weaving all the plot lines of SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE together. It only gets better from here on out, but nevertheless, the first five issues successfully lay the foundation for what happens next. Clearly, the comic isn’t perfect. The author’s leave plenty of details unexplained. Despite a few problems, SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE vol. 1 is a compelling and imaginative story. When paired with the corresponding album, the comic gets even better.

Be sure to check out the next analysis on SECOND STAGE TURBINE BLADE vol. 2!

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