Christopher Moeller’s Iron Empires

This weekend something reminded me of a couple of graphic novels that I read a while back and liked enough to spare from the recent purge. I re-read them and found that not only to they still stand up, I actually enjoyed them even more this time around. Both take place in the “Iron Empires” universe of artist Christopher Moeller (which was originally called “Shadow Empires” but then someone else decided that maybe he should change the name). In a far-flung future, a techno-feudalist humanity (you know, a powerful church, squabbling barons, all armed with power armor and high-tech weaponry) is at constant war against the Vaylen, a race of parasitic worms that can take over other beings’ minds. This is all stuff we’ve seen before and since in a multitude of places, but Moeller’s painted art and writing combine to really serve it to me in a way I enjoy.

The art is a nice combination of textured painting with strong outlines — the look of the Borderlands games kind of reminds me of it, in a way. And the writing is equally strong. Moeller throws you into his world with very little explanation and doesn’t talk down to the reader or do too many info-dumps. He expects you to keep up. And his characters, while often pulled from stock character supplies, show a depth to them that make them not easily classifiable.

The first book is Faith Conquers, which involves a religious warrior, Trevor Faith, who has been shipped out to a sleepy little world near Vaylen territory. He simultaneously has to deal with the corrupt and complacent church hierarchy, a heretical sect, evidence of murder, and a possible Vaylen invasion. It’s clunky in parts — Faith is a pretty hypercompetant, seemingly one-note character — but there are layers there that are revealed more by what Moeller doesn’t put in and merely hints at than what he does. The trade also contains a short story.

The second book is Sheva’s War, and it hits a lot of the same notes: the main character is a person on a dirtball world who would rather be somewhere else, the dirtball world is close to Vaylen territory, the Vaylen decide to drop in, necessitating a lot of military hardware and discussion. However, the character of Ahmi Sheva is very different from that of Trevor Faith, and the whole Vaylen invasion thing is almost secondary to her character arc.

Both books are fat-packed with all kinds of futuristic guns and vehicles, and it’s pretty clear that Moeller has all of this stuff specced out somewhere, possibly as a homebrew miniatures game he started this out with. It’s since been adapted into a role-playing game that I’d love to get my hands on, not to play, but at least to read. In addition to all the military stuff, the comics reference a detailed history, geography, and theology. If Moeller hasn’t also carefully planned these out behind the scenes, he does a damn good job at pretending he’s done so.

I don’t know if these are still in print or available digitally, but they’re worth tracking down. Dark Horse published both the trades, even though Sheva’s War originally came out under DC’s short-lived “Helix” imprint. I wish there were more volumes, as it’s a universe I’d like to read more of.

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