THE OLD GUARD: TALES THROUGH TIME BOOK ONE TPB
These are fairy tales of blood and bullets. They are the stories of men and women who cannot die. Mostly. The oldest of them is 6,732 years old, she thinks. The youngest is 27. Combined they have 10,000 years of stories to tell. These are some of them...
This trade paperback collects all six single issues of the series
I don’t revisit series in trade very often if I have already read and reviewed them as singles or a series but I made an exception for this series. What follows is mostly a reprint of my previously released series review with a few changes and edits that take the trade paperback format that comes out 15 December 2021 into consideration.
Anthologies are strange animals, they are often the neglected little child to long form serialized storytelling (quick without thinking too hard name 3 anthology series you love…bet you had to think about it) and yet when done right anthologies can produce absolutely superb short stories, flawless facets that lock together to make a perfect diamond and that’s exactly what the short stories collected in this trade paperback of this series does.
I am and have always been fascinated with what I call ” The philosophy of the immortal” What would the morality of someone gifted with extraordinarily long life would look like has always interested me. It’s why I love things like the Highlander, Anne Rice’s Vampire series, and other fictional works about the long-lived lives of their central characters so The Old Guard is most definitely in my wheelhouse of interest. Having read Opening Fire and Force Multiplied and thoroughly enjoyed both of them (I maintain Force Multiplied is the better of the two with Opening Fire supplying the bones and volume two fleshing out and really digging into the complicated pasts of this group of near immortals, pulling back the curtain on the flaws of these characters especially Andromache) I was very interested to see what other writers could bring to Rucka and Fernandez’s world.
The Old Gaurd Tales Through Time may use the fictional conceit of these immortal men and women as the lens through which to view these stories and that aspect is healthily explored but at its heart, for me, the stories of this anthology are really the story of us…humanity in all our glory and ugliness and what the exceptional comic talent assembled here does is explore the best and the worst of us through the eyes and the lives of Andromache “Andy” of Scythia the oldest of them, lovers Nicolo “Nicky” di Genova and Yusuf “Joe” al-Kaysani, Sebastien “Booker” Le Livre and the newest near immortal Nile Freeman. This anthology, which tantalizingly teases us with that BOOK ONE at the end of its title, also fleshes out both previously referenced characters from the first volumes and introduces some new characters including children (both blood and found) and past lovers.
The various stories jump back and forth in time hopping through the decades and centuries as they explore themes like the touchstones we cling to that remind us of our past in Rucka and Fernandez’s MY MOTHERS AXE or bearing witness to some of the greatest achievements of humankind while at the same time having to deal with some of humanity’s vilest in Robert Mackenzie & Dave Walker’s “LACUS SOLITUDINUS”. The series does not shy away from the ugliness of who we are or have been and the themes of fascism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism are explored incisively in several stories like “ZANZIBAR AND OTHER HARBORS” from Andrew Wheeler and Jacopo Camagni and “LOVE LETTERS” by David Walker and Matthew Clark.
Along with the superb writing we are gifted with an absolute smorgasbord of talent that brings these stories to life in the art department. Original series artist Leandro Fernandez bookends the volume with the opening tale and the last tale (featuring the mysterious Yhitzak and no doubt a possible lead into the much anticipated third volume of the main OLD GUARD series) we are treated to beautifully structured and paneled art like Valentine De Landro and Meredith McConnell’s art for Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “BONSAI SHOKUNIN” or get to see the look and feel of 70’s restaurant and world war 2 Belgium by Michael Oeming in Brian Bendis’s “PASSCHENDAELE”. The beauty of Nicky and Joe kissing in a moonlit park by Jacopo Camagni and colorist Daniela Miwa in pre-WW2 Germany at the rise of fascism. We get to see Andromache revisit the loss of her lover Achilles in an old abandoned town that felt her wrath for taking him from her in their ignorance of the unknown by Steve Lieber and colorist Daniela Miwa (who colors a large portion of this series brilliantly!) in Matt Fraction’s “HOW TO MAKE A GHOST TOWN”. In short though and to be clear while I won’t be covering every story in this review in detail, I can confidently say that every single story that appears in this first collected volume has the feeling of being crafted by teams of diverse, highly talented artists fully invested in the stories they are telling, and that’s very much worth mentioning.
These characters have lived lives filled with violence and several stories contrast the good that comes from that violence with the bad that can come from the selfsame violence. “ZANZIBAR AND OTHER HARBORS” shows the good for example in how saving the life of someone can reach through time back to these men and women later whereas in Eric Trautmann and Mike Henderson’s “STRONG MEDICINE” Booker saving a life means through violence means that he was directly responsible for saving a lineage that would spawn one of their worst adversaries. Every single story in this series is a well thought out emotionally weighted and resonant vignette that examines the best and worst of who we are as a species sometimes with both horrifyingly hilarious results like in “OLD SOUL” by Jason Aaron and Rafael Alberqurque where a drunken Booker ends up in the clutches of a cult of killer nuns (yes you heard me correctly) and deeply touching like in my personal favorite short “MANY HAPPY RETURNS” where writer Vita Ayala with the help of the marvelous Nicola Scott reminds us all that doing something selfless and compassionate for someone we love even though they may have hurt us is as good for one’s soul as it is for the person we show compassion to.
I want to make a special mention of the interstitial art by Leandro Fernandez for this series. the tiny singular images which reflect an aspect of the story that they appear before or after. They are simple and powerful reminders of how a single image can serve as a touchstone psychologically and they really do add a superb psychologically moving element to the series that is a testament to the power of art.
Additions to the trade include an index page with background art by Leandro Fernandez, a gallery at the end of the trade with all of Fernandez’s covers from the single issues, which interestingly enough are combined to make up the cover of the trade papaback, as well as several variant covers by several series artists who drew stories in this anthology collection.
The Old Guard: Tales Through Time TPB is one of those rare anthology series that accomplishes everything it sets out to do. It is 148 pages of superbly written, beautifully drawn, and colored short stories by top industry talent that both fleshes out Rucka and Fernandez's near-immortal central characters in deep and emotionally resonant ways while also providing an incisive and fearless examination of the best and worst of human nature and achievement through a fictional lens.
This is a very accessible collection that would make a great holiday gift for someone that is a fan of the original comic series or the Netflix movie.
THE OLD GUARD: TALES THROUGH TIME BOOK ONE TPB: The Story Of Us
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 9.5/109.5/10
- Color - 9/109/10
- Cover Art - 9/109/10
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