Space Ramblings

The Blackburne Covenant


Once upon a time crucial struggle was fought between the Acolytes of the Greenway and the Barons of the Blackburne Covenant who sought to forge a technological civilization out of iron. In the collision between Greenway and Iron, the crucial role was played by Talinada, who possessed the power of the Greenway, giving her control over plants and the forces of nature. However Talinada decided for an unstated reason that the time was not yet right for the triumph of the Greenway and after killing a number of the Knights of the Covenant, she surrendered and was brutally tortured before being executed.

Many centuries later Richard Kaine is living among the squalor of the technological civilization forced by the Covenant and working in a cubicle at a publishing company. He finally writes a novel titled Wintersong and places it in the company’s slush pile and allows Marissa at the publishing company to read it. The book is published and becomes an instant DaVinci Code style success that creates a cult following of people who believe the book is really true. Like the DaVinci Code, Wintersong focuses on the collision between a pagan matriarchal belief system with a more conventional feudal religious and civic system ending in triumph for European civilization while the pagans retreat secretively underground.

The book’s incredible popularity follows Richard wherever he goes. He goes on Oprah and travels the world doing book tours and drinking heavily. He isn’t getting any writing done but he is having visions of the world ‘greening’ and buildings becoming replaced by organic and plant forms. And after an encounter with an assailant with a taser whose shirt contains the Blackburne Covenant emblem, Richard begins to believe that he did not write the book, but that it really did happen. And then the killings begin.

First the head of the publishing company which put out the book is murdered and then Marissa herself is killed. The publishing company is taken over, Richard’s bar is blown up and Richard himself is pushed to the edge and forced to discover and use his powers. The powers of the Greenway.

In The Blackburne Covenant, Fabian Nicieza has crafted what might be called an organic version of The Matrix. Richard Kaine is the reincarnation of Talinada’s spirit who has to fulfill her purpose and proclaim the truth to mankind and show that there is a better way. The Blackburne Covenant briefly gives us the impression that governments and industries are all pawns of the complex but fails to give much in the way of detail. The Greenway Acolytes themselves, a secret commune operating out of Maine, had tried to use John Lennon and Timothy Leary to be their messiahs, but failed with both of them.

Artist Stefanno Raffaele boldly lays out the world of The Blackburne Covenant in neat strokes and fluid shapes that occasionally suggests more classic comic books while shifting to a gritter noisy look for the sections involving flashbacks of Talinada. The shifting organic world of green and red explodes around Richard as projections of unbounded fluid energy and the intertwining forms often suggest the comic book art of the 70’s. The Matrix analogies continue as Richard’s ability to see the world in an ‘organic’ way parallels the way Neo can see the code beneath the surface of the Matrix. On learning to harness his powers, Richard even stops bullets several times in the air and hurls them back– Neo style. And his trinity is literal with the female ghosts of two of the Greenway Acolytes accompanying him on his journey.

The material is at times adult with degrees of nudity shown, but never entirely explicit. The level of violence is insignificant except when displaying the torture and murders of Talidana and Marissa– the latter of which is particularly disturbing. The Blackburne Covenant has an interesting premise but lacks particularly interesting characters. Richard Kaine is essentially a cliched successful writer who manages to nail every cliche along the way and is so self-destructive that he’s generally irritating. Marissa barely sticks around for a single issue. Talidana is a vision who occasionally pops up, sometimes in the spirit and sometimes in written form. Few characters in the story stick around for very long and a central villain is even more lacking.

The Blackburne Covenant is portrayed as an all powerful organization but yet appears to be singularly ineffective. Multiple failed attempts at bringing down Richard are written off as merely tests. At one point Fabian Nicieza seems to be aiming for Joss Whedon style dialogue by the Covenant’s members (and The Blackburne Covenant even appears to explicitly reference Joss Whedon by name early on in the first issue) who deliver lines like “Unleash the Swords of the Covenant– I always wanted to say that”. But the results are uneven and watered down.

There appears to be too much material for Fabian Nicieza to really fit into four issues. Each introduction to each issue fills us in on material we would have often otherwise never known. The problem grows worse with the final two issues which are entirely unfocused and in which Kaine seems as adrift as Nicieza himself for what to do next. The ending is somewhat clever, suggesting Lenin’s infamous line about the capitalists selling us the rope to hang them with– but it caps off a rather aimless collection of action scenes that go nowhere.

The Blackburne Covenant has been adapted for filming and it isn’t entirely surprising– not because it’s so cinematic but because it so resembles the Matrix. However as a story it needed less symbolism and more substance. A 100 Bullets style exploration of the Blackburne Covenant itself would have added a good deal of depth to the story. Meanwhile the endless scenes from the novel with Talinada only remind you of how poor the novel is, rather than serving as a font for deeper mythology. There is potential here– which like the Greenway remains beneath the surface.

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