Like all great comic books (or graphic novels, depending on your literary priorities), the first thing that hooks you in, as a reader, is the artwork. Kristo not only hooks, but keeps you hooked throughout, and it’s not just down to the crisp, bright artwork.
Kristo, written by former AP2HYC contributor Sam Roads with artwork by Alex Sheikman, is a gritty and graphic (geddit?) retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (again, geddit?), not so much set against the backdrop of both World Wars, rather smothered in them.
Kristo tells the story of Issak Solzhenitsyn who, near the end of WW1 (1917), looks set to live the life of Riley. He’s happily in love, recently married, and has a child on the way. But his life takes a turn for the worst when three of his colleagues (including his sister) set to tarnish his reputation by faking a letter in his name telling of his (to put it lightly) lack of faith in Josef Stalin and support of Leon Trotsky.
He gets arrested and becomes a prisoner for the next twenty years. On emerging from prison, he takes on the identity of a deceased solider, Major Kristo, and vows revenge on those who’ve wronged him.
The plot itself reigns in any surprise twists, Kristo does indeed gain the upper hand over his betrayers, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t a thrill. It’s well-told, and elegantly paced, all the while bearing a decidedly camp overtone through dialogue and actions on Kristo’s part.
The first few pages, detailing Kristo’s contentment with his life is slightly saccharin (particularly on page 14, with the third panel looking like a poster for a French poetic realism film), while the dialogue bears some Flash Gordon-esque campiness to it. However, camp is no bad thing at all, and when coupled with the hooky pace of the story it works wonders, particularly the methods with which Kristo picks off his betrayers, which are as horrendous as they are hilarious.
As I mentioned earlier, the artwork is constantly crisp, fresh, and sometimes quite bare in it’s detail, which adds punch and immediacy to the more action-based panels. At times however, it is somewhat 2D, such as the individual names of the betrayers in the second chapter, as well as the page in the first chapter detailing Kristo’s imprisonment. Also, the interrogation panels which bookend the whole story are gloriously luminescent in their colour, but it’s debatable if they blend in with the visuals of the story.
Overall, Kristo is a thoroughly entertaining read, and is smart enough not to put emphasis on action or gore over the plot and its rhythm. If anything, the violence in the story is, for the most part, tantalisingly out of reach. It’s tricks like that that makes you want to read the story over and over again. Roads and Sheikman do a splendid job of complementing each other here, and we can only hope more of their joint work is to come.