The Golden Vine: review

From ComicBookNet E-mag issue #421 (05/30/2003)
Review by David LeBlanc. Reprinted with permission.

304 pages, full color plus gold ink, 9 X 7, $24.99 US
ISBN 0-9717564-1-4
Shoto Press

Written by Jai Sen
Illustrated by Seijuro Mizu, Umeka Asayuki, Shino Yotsumoto
Colors by Alexander Andy, Bobby Widjaya, Heru Arman

If you liked the Xeric award-winning GARLANDS OF MOONLIGHT and the sequel THE GHOST OF SILVER CLIFF by this Eisner-nominated author then you will be blown away by THE GOLDEN VINE. It is spectacular in scope and execution. The art work alone will leave you breathless, the coloring is perfect from scene to scene, chapter to chapter, conveying the mood of the action be it current or flashback. Such a fantastic book coming on the heels of their much acclaimed two books of the Malay Mysteries makes it clear Shoto Press is making its name known in the comic world.

This one is a change in direction as Jai Sen turns attention to historical fiction and speculation. This is the story of Alexander the Great, his father Phillip of Macedon and his son Alexander IV. While much of it is based on the historical facts, parts of it are changed to make way for a story that becomes a “what if”.

The story is told in three parts. It opens with “The Road to Persepolis” as Alexander IV is summoned to his father’s side as he is dying in the world capital of his empire. But before the prince can reach him he dies. What follows is a narrative told to the prince by Alexander’s life-long friend, Hephaestion about his life and that of the Prince’s father. It starts with the fact that Hephastion’s grandfather, though a Macedonian was granted citizenship in Athens for fighting against the Persians. His life was one of servitude though, as he was really not an equal. But his family finally got a chance when he was approached to spy on his employer by and agent of Phillip of Macedon. He is rewarded for his loyalty to Phillip with a new home in Macedon. Thus the two families became entwined and as Philip gains territory and his son gains a lifelong friend.

The story is rich in the mythology of the times, the Oracles play a key part in Alexander’s fate as he takes control of the kingdom after his father is murdered. The story of Alexander’s campaign to unite the world under one rule, with his friend and lover ever at his side, is laid out and then veers a bit from true history to tell a different story. His companion does not die but is crowned a king by Alexander. Alexander goes on to conquer India and moves on to China and then Japan and learns of lands perhaps beyond the great ocean. Part 2 is “Alexander’s Letters” to his friend from which Alexander IV learns much about the unknown world – still unknown to most of the “known world” of the time. It matters not that the fiction is of the great conqueror living to see the Far East and the Americas, because it builds a great story of a grander time that might have been.

There is a larger background of intrigue that finally is revealed in part three, “Song of the Oracles”. Unlike the true history Alexander lives to succeed his father after learning all the secrets of his discoveries and the plots by others. Once you start this 300+ volume you won’t put it down. Look for this to be on people’s lists of outstanding work in 2003.