“It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for Blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is Hell.” quoted William T. Sherman who essentially meant that for any who have seen it, there is nothing they would rather not see. However, for those unlucky few, it is well known about the friendships they develop around this shared experience. This week, we take a look at Fell Hound’s Commander Rao, which sees one soldier seek forgiveness and justice for another who fell.
Publisher: Hound Studios
Writer: Fell Hound
Artist: Fell Hound (Art/Colours), Lettersquids (Letters)
Price: Now available via Kickstarter
Commander Rao tells the story of the last day of Kasey Elizabeth Cormack, a former army trained Partisan who is also known by the titular name. With a great, ongoing war coming to a successful end for the Resistance army, the people gather in the streets to celebrate the life and sacrifice of a seemingly superhuman soldier whose final act of bravery and sacrifice ended the rule and torment of a despot and allowed for the victory and freedom the are now within a hair’s breadth of. But who was this ‘Commander Rao’, why did she fight this way and what was the reason behind her final, fateful battle?
Fell Hound produces an engaging and heart-warming story within the pages of this one shot. Opening with a newspaper article which really gives the character some sense of gravitas or importance before we are thrust into the story, the comic beyond this first page is a flashback of the events which led to this article. Hound, does an incredible job with this first page of whetting my appetite with this opening exposition dump, offering the information in an intriguing way while subtly hinting that what is written is not necessarily the truth. What follows is two stories told concurrently, with the ‘present’ (Rao’s attack on Baron Klaus) wrapped around the ‘past’ (Kasey’s comradeship with Julie), giving us the opportunity to see both her reason for becoming Rao and its ultimate objective. As a result, this is an incredibly emotional story as, between the fire-fights and the high-octane stunts we learn of Rao’s mantra – you have my back, I have yours – and how her one-time inability to stick to this caused her great loss, great guilt and an almost suicidal need to make up for it. As a result, this is what makes the title a gripping tale, as it offers up pure emotion that everyone is sure to understand should they end up letting down a friend or (either real or, in this case, chosen) family.
However, while the emotion and the overall plot are perfectly conveyed, the story does suffer from a number of holes which, while not detrimental to pacing or enjoyment, can lead to some more observant readers feeling a tad confused. For example, how does Rao come back from a seemingly career ending injury to make this attack or how does she come by ‘those wonderful toys’ to partake in combat manoeuvres at a Batman-level capability? These questions and possibly more, lead me to question the grounding of the entire tale. And while comics (like any medium) don’t need accurate explanation or such things, a suitable (even in-story) explanation would really help explain things.
As for the art, Fell Hound pulls triple duty with not just the writing but the pencils and colours and, in truth, the work is nothing short of breathtaking. The style within Commander Rao is unbelievably gorgeous, with the digital sci-fi artwork really selling this futuristic landscape. While his depiction of the facial features, particularly the weariness and rage on Rao’s face at respective points, is unbelievably life-like and beautiful. Meanwhile, his colours perfectly match his pencils, with the deep reds in the background give the impression of a war soaked world. While the vibrant colours in the foreground sell the comic’s action-packed, futuristic vibe.
Of course, the future (or present) isn’t the only timeline and Hound, changes up both style and colours to something a little more muted, giving the past a much more ‘Band of Brothers’-esque visual to it. Add to all this the loud, bombastic lettering by Lettersquids, which more than matches the sci-fi feel and is absolutely incredible work. Unfortunately, Commander Rao isn’t faultless and it falters due to its action scenes, where Rao’s attack on Klaus’ compound looks very all over the place and confusing to follow. Of course, war is not clean but chaotic and Hound certainly brings that across, but for the benefit of the readers, it does seem like a struggle.
Commander Rao is an incredibly enjoyable comic that ultimately boils down to one of friendship, love and guilt as it shows one woman’s mission to make up for letting down her best friend in life by making them a hero in death. While the plot does contain some noticeable holes and the art falters in places, both are still gorgeous and compelling enough to make Commander Rao a worthy read to your comics pile.