Americans have a fascination with countries that used to be our enemies. Our fascination with Japanese culture is well-documented. Though not as prevalent, there’s also an interest in the former Soviet Unioin. Cold War era movies like Rocky IV and Red Dawn continue to be popular. Red Army hockey jerseys were popular apparel in the early to mid ‘90s. This interest in the Soviets has also made its way into comic books and it resulted in one of the underappreciated masterpieces of the past decade: The Red Star.
The Red Star launched in 2000. It was the brainchild of Christian Gossett who had previously worked in video games and movie special effects. He enlisted Bradley Kayl as a co-writer and Snakebite as a colorist. He envisioned a world in which the Soviet Union didn’t fall, but was still fighting a twenty-year war in Afghanistan.
He also envisioned a war in which the superpower relied on magic as well as technology. The famous Red Army drafted sorcerers into its ranks. The sorcerers would cast spells of destruction and protection.
The Army itself built huge floating gunships (imagine a Soviet version of SHIELD’s helicarrier).
The series focuses on Marcus Antares, a Captain in the Red Army who is one of the leaders in the battle of Kar Dathra’s Gate. After that battle, the series shifts focus to Maya Antares, Marcus’ wife and a sorceress. By the end of its initial run, the Red Star added a third point-of-view character: the young rebel fighter, Makita.
The result is that the series had an epic scope, covering the industrial army, the sorcerers at the heart of the army and the rebels standing up to the superpower. Yet the series was able to keep the story personal, as we were more interested in the characters themselves than in the great movements they represented.
The blend of industry and magic was also fascinating. It would grow even more interesting as the series progressed. We learn that the Soviet sorcerers are barely tapping into a force greater than they can comprehend, like somehow drilling for oil with a straw. There is an entire spiritual realm, full of the energy of fallen soldiers. And there is the red lady, an avatar of those spirits who becomes directly involved in the current conflict.
The Red Star is mystical and mysterious, grandly epic yet touchingly personal. It’s well worth reading even if it’s hard to find.
Image published the first 9 issue series, which was collected in two oversized trades, The Battle of Kar Dathra’s Gate and Nokgorka. Gossett and company then made the move to self-publishing, putting out an annual in 2001, “Run Makita Run,” through their own Archangel Studios. A second series started at CrossGen in 2002 but stayed for only two issues before finishing up independently. The Red Star then came back for a three issue mini-series in 2006. Those last two series are also available in trades, Prison of Souls and Sword of Lies, though neither received wide distribution.
If that’s not enough to satisfy your Cold War cravings, there are some other Russian and Soviet stories you could peruse. Wildstorm recently finished its Winter Men series by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon. As summarized nicely on Wikipedia: “The story is about a Russian policeman who is the product of a Soviet project to create superhumans.” I have to confess that I lost interest part way through, but Winter Men has its fans and a trade is scheduled to come out at the end of November.
Marvel is also getting in on the Cold War nostalgia. Two new Black Widow mini-series starring the former Soviet spy are coming out. Black Widow: Deadly Origin by Paul Cornell, Tom Raney and John Paul Leon (again!) came out this week. Black Widow & the Marvel Girls by Paul Tobin and Salvador Espin is scheduled for the first week of December. Finally, Hulk: Winter Guard features Russia’s premier super-team, and is set to come out in the first week of December as well.