Rough Riders #1 is historical fiction at its finest, blending well-known historical events and people with advanced technology and unlikely alliances. This title has a lot of potential as an ongoing series, if creators can keep up with their imaginations. Writer Adam Glass takes the idea of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and gives it a wonderfully original face lift, while Patrick Olliffe’s art gives accurate representations of the historical content with comic flair.
The story immediately sets up Roosevelt as a justice-seeking do-gooder who travels via his own personal blimp, giving the reader a good idea that this isn’t exactly non-fiction. He saves a group of young ladies from a burning building, but his failures are a constant reminder that he can do more and be better. Roosevelt feels very Batman-esque, but more approachable and not as menacing. He cleans himself up and goes to a party (Bruce Wayne alter ego), where he is summoned by “the Four Horsemen”: Carnegie, JP Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller. While Roosevelt does not hide his contempt for tycoons, he cannot deny their audience. They show Teddy a document describing an attack on the U.S.S. Maine that the papers say was caused by the Spanish, but wasn’t. The four horsemen essentially draft him into solving the problem discreetly, as only a man of his talents can, while leading a military group as his cover. For those of you who don’t know, the actual Rough Riders were a volunteer-based militia led by Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Teddy takes on the task but knows he can’t do it alone, so he sets out to assemble an elite team of operatives to help him out. The first on his list is the boxer Jack Johnson, who at this time is brawling in the slums for extra money. As a black man, opportunities for a respectable boxing career are non-existent, so when Roosevelt approaches him about a business opportunity that may open doors for him, you know what he does? He fights Teddy Roosevelt! Good thing he’s quick and isn’t a stranger to fisticuffs. With Jack on board, the two men go to recruit their next member, the Great Harry Houdini! The issue ends on this splash page, which is a sure-fire way to get the reader to pick up issue two. I can’t say it didn’t work on me though, but I will indeed be picking up the next one.
So, judging by the wonderful cover art, the team will eventually also include Annie Oakley, Thomas Edison, and someone named M. Eastman that I’ve never heard of. Even so, what a line up! Part of the reason I preordered this title was because the cover reminded me of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the similarities don’t end there. The team dynamic is much this same, having a strong man, a scientist, a fierce female, a disappearing man, and a well-rounded ringleader out to complete a mission that would utilize the special skill set of each member. The parallels drew me to the book and it pays off. Instead of using science fiction characters from the turn of the 20th century, Rough Riders uses actual people from the same time period and integrates the story with actual historical context! The story is well written and has an excellent character building scene for Teddy that makes you respect the man as a leader and an individual. Also, I preferred the art to that of the League due to the realism employed. Olliffe could have drawn looser interpretations and gotten the point across fine, but by using photographs and portraits as the template, he pulls the reader into the past, not into a story. Also, there is an element of steampunk in this story, but it is not overplayed. High tech guns on the cover and in the initial rescue scene foreshadow some pretty epic showdowns of old timey gun slingers using laser blasters. Pew Pew Pew! I hope the team is assembled by the end of next issue because I’m excited to see them in action.
Aftershock may have their next hit with Rough Riders. You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy Rough Riders #1, even though some context may help you with some references. Pick it up either way, because it’s damn good.
Excellent, Five out of five stars