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Advance Review: Nikolai Dante and The Beast of Rudinshtein

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Charles Dickens said it best "I do not know the American gentleman, God forgive me for putting two such words together.Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser are the original creators of Nikolai Dante, continuing the British tradition of the gentleman anti-hero. It seems that Jerry Cornelius and Sebastian O have bonded, having produced an imaginary love child. And just like Cornelius transcends genres and mediums, so does Nikolai Dante, having even novels in existence. Nikolai Dante, the character sways through life with wit and bravado, dressed to kill and unafraid to lose a battle but always fighting for what he feels is right and that is not necessarily always the right thing.

Year of the Tsar 2674 AD, and the bastard son of the Romanovs, Nikolai Dante, has bonded with a cyber organic Weapons Crest, an alien combat computer, which allows him to extrude lethal bio-blades. Following the civil war, Tsar Vladimir the Conquerer is strengthening his control over Imperial Russia, and he's appointed Dante his troubleshooter, will he side with his former enemy of the Makarovs or will he try to pervert the system from within ...  

This latest collection bundles stories entitled Nikolai Dante and The Beast of Rudinshtein ranging from 2007 to the present, meaning that a lot of people have been waiting for this tpb for a long while. And while the previous volume was hailed rather coldly, general perception being that Morrison drifted a bit away from his original concept - the character ages throughout the series and all stories should matter to his development - in volume 08, he hits all the right notes. The stories range from serious character drama to humour and everything in between, deal with some hanging plots and delve more into the relationships of the characters. Morrison utilises the future setting and Nikolai Dante's ability to adapt due to his strong survival sense to its fullest. Just like his former enemy, the Tsar (now employing Dante as his enforcer: the Sword of the Tsar), the writer obviously gets an immense pleasure out of stretching the protagonists' flexibility to the breaking point and beyond. And the reader is right there next to him, enjoying the hell out of the stories.

Morrison keeps everything brisk and maintains a wonderful pace. The stories never get too convoluted in continuity and relationships are always clear and easy to follow. A few stories in the collection stand out from the rest. In 'Deadlier than the Male', womanizer Dante is dispatched to an Amazonian island to bring equal rights to the sexes in this matriarchal warrior's society where all the men are enslaved and the women rule body and mind. The ensuing activities turn out to be quite hilarious. 'Hellfire' wraps up an important subplot about Dante's turned-terrorist sister and their relationship in the post-revolution world, encapsulating the relations into a larger family tapestry. The titular story 'The Beast of Rudinshtein' delivers some light horror after the dramatics of the previous tale. And Dante, the former thief and ruler of the territory of Rundinshtein - already the poorest region of the Romanovs before the revolution -  returns to this forsaken land to restore order but what he finds will not only make him mad but will also shake him to his core in 'Thieves' World'.

Simon Fraser is alternated with John Burns to handle the art. Both styles are very different from each other. While Fraser uses a swirling brush line for dynamic figuring in combination with computer colouring, John Burns churns out fully painted comic pages. Both styles work equally well. Fraser highlights the action elements more while Burns puts out an homage to the pulps of yesteryear. His beautiful sense of lighting and charismatic renderings bear a classical weight that fits the Nikolai Dante stories perfectly. The painted artwork gives the family dramatics of the Romanovs and the Makarovs an ageless underpinning, having it reverberate across generations.

Nikolai Dante volume 08 The Beast of Rudinshtein is a coded transmission from the world to come. It is a futuristic comedia dell'arte , a warning on the evil of royalty, family, jealousy and of parallel world weaponries. Nikolai Dante, the gentleman secret agent adventurer, honors posterity and the British refined man. Robbie Morrison, Simon Fraser and John Burns deliver another stunning volume of this excellent British sci-fi series that keeps its eyes aimed at the future but its emotions in its heart.

note: art used in the vertical images is representative for the art of Nikolai Dante volume 08 but does not appear in the actual graphic novel itself

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Nikolai Dante volume 08 The Beast of Rudinshtein, published by Rebellion 2000 AD, is a full color 192 pages tpb, retailing for £17.99. It is available in finer bookstores and comic shops February 5th, 2009.

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