The Forged Vol. 1The Forged, Vol. 1 – Operation: Black Box

Writers: Greg Rucka & Eric Trautmann
Artist: Mike Henderson
Colorist: Nolan Woodard
Letterer: Ariana Maher
Publisher: Image Comics

The Forged volume 1 collects the first three issues of the latest series from Greg Rucka, Eric Trautmann, and Mike Henderson. The Forged are a race of warrior women bred by the Eternal Empress to serve as the fist of the empire. They are the ones you send in when you want the job done at all costs. The team has been dispatched to a routine mission to remote space to retrieve an item from a ship. What unfolds is anything but routine for the squad as they must battle their way off a hostile planet while dealing with an even more hostile alien race.

I missed out on the first three issues, and I have been eager to read the trade for this series as I’ve been hearing positive buzz. From what I gathered, the Forged would be extremely my kind of comic. I am sucker for sci-fi action comics and the oversized trim of the series (think DC Black Label) appeals to me. By all indications from the first volume, The Forged is exactly my kind of comic. 

Rucka and Trautmann craft a sci-fi world that borders on the realm of hard science-fiction but leaves enough fantastical aspects that it doesn’t feel like a chore. In just three oversized issues, Rucka and Trautmann perform worldbuilding all while moving the plot forward in an energetic way. Instead of focusing on the building of the team or exposition detailing the Forged or this world, the details are spread throughout the first arc.

There are a couple data pages of sorts to help set the basics of this world, but we aren’t talking about some Hickman-esque charts full of pure exposition and diagrams here. Just simple statements and quotes from the in-universe religious text. This all creates a very organic and grounded world despite it being about a race of space-faring humans as they wrestle with aliens from an alternate dimension. An example of the organic world building is throughout the book there are mentions of various aspects of the social caste system.  In addition to The Forged, there are the Cassandras, priestess or prophets for the Empress. Not only do they showcase to the reader that this is a world with a social structure and hierarchy of things, it sets up the Cassandras naturally and is less likely to break up the flow of the pages. 

The Forged

By keeping the flow of the comic moving, Rucka and Trautman give themselves more room to establish the group dynamic within The Forged. The characters all feel well-formed with backstories and characterization. It helps keep the feeling of a lived-in world for the reader. I also like the group’s dynamics in general as the Banter and characterization is fun.

The story does follow some similar beats to other sci-fi stories, but that is not a problem as the story presented is entertaining and I appreciate its swiftness as it moves through the pages. The action is exciting, but at times feels a bit over extended. Not that is a bad thing, though. The comics are lengthy with often 50+ pages of comic per issue in the trade. There is some room to let the action breathe. The fact they are surgical with their character work and world building affords the pages for these moments. 

Mike Henderson’s art is really the star of the book for me. Henderson has a knack for action sequences. There is plenty of action in the book, too. The action scenes are done over a variety of panel layouts, page lengths, and inventive use of the Forge’s Mech armor suits create exhilarating and pulse pounding action. It is quite kinetic, and it makes it even more enjoyable. 

The Forged

These action scenes are just one small part of the reason the art is the star of the book, though. Henderson designs are the other reason. The designs for The Forged are varied in body styles and mannerisms. Each woman has a unique look that corresponds to their personality. The Forge utilizes Mech Battle Armors (think Samus Aran from Metroid) and Henderson attempts to reflect these character designs into their mechs. This is important as the cast spend most of the book in their armors.

My only complaint about the character designs is that there isn’t enough differentiation between the mechs. It makes the dialog hard to follow. Sure, there are moments where we see the Forged without their helmets but those are spaced out by nearly a third of the book. If you are not reading the book in one sitting, it makes it hard to keep up. A better attempt at either establishing shots or captions would help. 

There is some effort by the letterer to help fix this problem. Ariana Maher color codes the speech bubbles coming off the mechs for each character. This not only makes it easier to follow but gives the speech via the mech a more inorganic and metallic feel. Really, Maher does a great job here. I would have appreciated some sort of caption under the mechs in the middle third of the trade to help keep them straight, but that is not a fault of Maher.

The colors by Nolan Woodard help make this comic just darn pretty to look at. The vibrancy of the color palette really stands out here. There is a tendency in science fiction to make stories based on desert planets with mechs to be dull. It is to add to the realism of the hard sci-fi or some garbage. Woodard takes that tendency and tosses it out. There are just some lovely pages in this book that pop with color. Throughout the book are sequences with the Cassandra characters and each interaction they have with people often results in this psychedelic page design where Henderson and Woodard come together to make something magical. It has a Christian Ward vibe to it all. It creates something surreal and compliments the tone of the scenes. 

The Forged Vol. 1 is a great start for the series. It has a self-contained story arc but still ends on a cliffhanger that keeps me wanting to come back for more. The combination of fun and efficient writing and beautiful art makes for a great time. It scratches all my science fiction itches and I had a great time reading it. I highly recommend checking this one out.

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The Forged Vol. 1 is out now.