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Wednesday, 17 February 2010

In Review: Nikolai Dante - Amerika

Writer Robbie Morrison's roguish Nikolai Dante character has been a success for 2000AD from his first appearance in Prog 1035 in March 1997 and with Amerika the Rebellion reprint books of his ongoing adventures have reached number 9.

It is the 27th Century and the Earth is dominated by the Russian empire of Tsar Vladimir the Conqueror. Despite their considerable differences in the past, Dante is currently the Sword Of The Tsar, operating as a trouble shooter for the Empire. Of course this being Nikolai Dante he is more likely to cause the trouble than to shoot it. The book reprints the ongoing story of Dante from the Amerika story itself up to An Army Of Thieves And Whores and adds a shorter spin-off story, Lulu's War, at the end.

Amerika is set again a backdrop of unrest in New York in which suicidal rebels take strength enhancing drugs to attack their Russian occupiers. These drugs give then superhuman abilities and Morrison, along with artist Simon Fraser, have fun in creating perverse versions of familiar superhero characters from the Captain America styled character on the cover to the Incredible Hulk and even the Watchmen. This is not that unusual in the Dante stories as Morrison has previously incorporated his versions of British comics characters such as Janus Stark, Luther Arkwright and even Lord Peter Flint from Warlord into his stories. Along with his love interest, the Tsarina Jena Makarov, Dante's task is to stop the violence from the terrorist groups and get them to declare a truce to allow elections to take place. Simon Fraser, as artistic creator of Dante, draws him with his usual dynamicism and uses his surprisingly rare splash panels to good effect.

The art chores on Dante are regularly split between the Fraser's traditional comics style and veteran John M Burns fully painted stories. As different as they are they both work just as well for the character and Burns paints the middle section of the story as Dante, sickened by what he has seen and had to do in New York, finally snaps and turns against the Tsar. This is a more sober storyline of torture and repression and Burns moody style fits it well before Fraser returns to art duties as the story opens out into an all out revolution against the Tsar's regime.

The extra story in the book is a short spin-off tale set during the uprising and involves perhaps the darkest of all Dante's siblings, Lulu Romanov. Lulu's ability is the creation of supernatural demons and her battle is set in Venice against the vampiric Nightstalkers. The art by Paul Marshall, who has previous illustrated tales of the vampire Durham Red, is not as polished as Fraser or Burns however, in a story that could so easily been too dark visually as well as plot wise, Harrison ensures that the panels tell the fairly vicious story clearly.

Dante is a fan favourite in 2000AD but, as these stories show, the world that he inhabits is coming to an end, with Morrison portraying him as less of the happy-go-lucky swashbuckler than he once was while John M Burns in particular is beginning to portray him as an older man.

All good things come to an end but Amerika shows that the tale of Nikolai Dante is not there quite yet.

There are more details of Nikolai Dante: Amerika on Rebellion's 2000AD Online website.

Simon Fraser has a "semi-official" Nikolai Dante site as part of his own website and he will be a guest at the Hi-Ex comics convention in Inverness on 27/28 March 2010.

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