The Old Guard #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Leandro Fernández and Daniela Miwa
Lettered by Jodi Wynne
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
When a writer or director has a long and prolific career, it becomes easier to identify what ideas and themes grab them because they tend to be recurrent elements within their work. Christopher Priest keeps returning to non-linear narratives and Jonathan Hickman keeps producing long-form series with a steady dispersal of reveals. The Old Guard makes it easy to pinpoints staples of writer Greg Rucka's playbook, but due to his mixing of the concepts, it avoids feeling stale.
From the book's title page, this is described as a fairy tale of blood and bullets, both are present in high volumes here, but also about a military unit consisting of one woman and three men who can't die. Mostly. It instantly recalls Lazarus (one of Rucka's other recent titles), which has a lead character who comes back to life in the opening scene, but The Old Guard also has roots in Queen & Country, a series which debuted in the early '00s which focused on military units as well. If Rucka were to use just one of these ideas, it would be nothing new and fresh, a series about an immortal character would feel redundant because of Lazarus still be produced, but these ideas in conjunction create a rich new world and panels depicting swords-and-sandals combat gives it a depth, extending further back than recent conflicts.
This four-person unit (Andy, Nicky, Joe, and Booker) are all featured within this issue, but it's Andy which has the most defined character within these pages. Again playing to Rucka's strengths, she's a character whose attitude is reminiscent of the hardened Renee Montoya and the steely Forever Carlyle. The trait which sets her apart is her awareness that she, like the rest of the unit is immortal, until they're not. The opening sequence blends romantic encounters with previous skirmishes as she wonders if her current engagements will finally be the one. This idea of becoming accustomed to immortality and then becoming bored offers Rucka a new offshoot of the well to delve into and also adds tension as eventually, something will kill them, there's just no guarantee what.
Much like Andy, the book is raw and unfiltered. The characters don't mince words and the violence has weight. At times, fatal wounds occur, but there's no time to pause and let it sink in. This casualness reminds us that the various players involved don't have time to slow time and neither does the creative team. Despite this pace, the violence is still something that registers because of Leandro Fernández's intricate work. This is most apparent when observing the hardware of the unit, a close-up on a rifle reveals the careful attention of Fernández to being accurate to the real world, but it also rings true in the settings. The streets of Barcelona and Paris in the issue exemplify two very different countries instead of being opposite sides of the same street. In some ways, Fernández's approach feels like Gabriel Ba's early work on Casanova with how it quickly sketches out a space.
The issue's strongest and most thrilling sequence is a night-time raid and demonstrates how the work of Daniela Miwa and Jodi Wynne is just as important to the book resonating in the right way. On the approach, the sun goes down and becomes replaced by a navy-blue sky. It's an appropriately cold color and mixes well with the thick shadows that keep the unit shrouded. Due to this, the intensity of artificial lights and some colors feel heightened. When a firefight breaks out, the muzzle flashes scorch the pages and the blood being spilled becomes more than purely set dressing, it's an indicator of exactly how ferocious the gunplay is. Without a strict panel layout, Jodi Wynne's lettering surrounds the unit and their targets with sound effects that convey the magnitude and chaos of the firefight as a staggering number of rounds are put downrange.
This raid is representative of The Old Guard. Meticulously researched, planned, and executed with precision. This sharpness ensures that this book is just as impactful of a release this far into Greg Rucka's career as it would be if it were his debut. While using ideas he's written about before, it's his familiarity with them which means he uses them exceptionally well, with a new angle of approach instead of looking at the same way he has prior.