For as long as the powers that be have been, they’ve attempted to justify their rule. The most flagrant and presumptuous of these has been the Divine Right; that Heaven ordains a Noble’s or King’s or Emperor’s rule. That they have been empowered from on high, and so they deserve to rule. But in THE ROYALS: MASTERS OF WAR – a new six issue miniseries from Vertigo – the titular royals do not merely pretend at empowerment. They are empowered. Super-empowered. And when the world is plunged into the Second Great War, Prince Henry of House Windsor decides to use his power in his nation’s greatest time of need.
Now if only he were the only royal so endowed.
I like alternate history fiction. They’re interesting thought experiments: what if Carthage won the Punic Wars? What if the South won the American Civil War? What if Nikola Tesla built his “peace ray”? What if this or that presidential nominee was elected instead of the other guy? What if more callers voted in favor of Jason Todd surviving Death In The Family?
Although in the case of that last one, I can certainly say the name wouldn’t make as much sense, now would it?
And of course there’s that ever popular genre of sticking superheroes or otherwise superpowered individuals into…whatever. Superheroes in drama. Superheroes in romantic comedy. Superheroes in retirement homes. Given the game-changing nature of metahumans, it’s no wonder the two tropes – alternate history and superheroes – would be combined into one.
When that happens…well, one gets Watchmen. But one also gets THE ROYALS: MASTERS OF WAR.
THE ROYALS: MASTERS OF WAR #1 introduces readers to an alternate universe where nobility wasn’t determined by what it is in real life – that is, arbitrarity and martial prowess – but rather by having superhuman abilities. And the martial prowess that affords. Superhuman power is in the blood, and the ones with the “purest” strains have the greatest power. Unsurprisingly, these tend to be the Kings and Queens of the world. They stomped enough faces to assert their dominance.
But of course, we can’t have history too affected by the addition of superpowers. Such a thing would almost certainly completely alter history as we know it into something wholly unrecognizable. Good thought experiment fodder, but we’re never told just how far back the supers emerged, and the farther back one goes, the more one simply has to guess at how history would turn out. It’s why writing alternate history fiction centering on the last 200 odd years is so popular, whereas alternate history fiction centering on, say, the results of the Punic Wars, are most certainly not. We barely know anything about Carthage (because Rome destroyed it so utterly), let alone how history would have changed if it hadn’t died off. As such, in the world of THE ROYALS: MASTERS OF WAR, the collective nobility of mankind signed an agreement that, no matter what, the royal families would never get involved in their nations’ conflicts. Doing so would invite reprisal, escalating any conflict into one fought between supermen with the world as a very fragile battleground.
Three guesses as to what happens to incite the plot for this miniseries?
If you guessed “some well-meaning but naïve young royal gets involved in their nations’ war, setting off an escalation of the conflict” and “this somehow involves World War II”, I award you full points. And a slow clap.
Yes it’s WWII, the most studied and retread war of them all. The British are being bombarded by German forces, and young Prince Henry of House Windsor is sad about it. But he can’t help his people, for one because of that whole royal agreement business, and for another because he’s not supposed to have powers. Not publicly anyway. Turns out – somehow – royals across the world have been picked off in a mirror of all the depositions in history, like the French and Communist Revolutions. I say somehow because we’re only given very loose reasons how revolutionaries were able to depose their monarchs when their monarchs have SUPERPOWERS. I know the Bolsheviks had flame throwers, but even that’s a stretch. And we don’t even see how seventeenth century French peasantry managed to kill their demigods in chief.
That’s one of the problems with this book in general. In some ways it exists to justify why history went the way it did using powers…and yet in other ways it tries its hardest to go on like nothing is different despite things logically needing to be different. You’re telling me that not one of the Tsar’s family (siblings or children) dodged the flamethrowers and immediately rained unholy reprisal on their assassins? You’re telling me that people who can fly, have super strength, greater fortitude, and sometimes even mind powers were unable to fight off a bunch of dirty Frenchmen with muskets?
That’s not a stab at the French in general, just that most of the revolutionaries of the day would naturally be of poor hygiene.
Regardless, Prince Henry’s older brother Charles was born without powers, and their father King Albert used it as a chance to write off his entire progeny as powerless in front of the whole world so they could be seen as not worth the effort of overthrowing.
Actually now that I think of it, how did the British manage to become Parliamentary in this universe? “Here’s the Magna Carta, your majesty.” “Oh, well that’s all well and good, but I can destroy all of you with my bare hands. So no representation for you.”
Prince Henry, being a kind and gentle soul, decides that the war is bad, and decides to intervene in one particular bombing. And so the escalation begins.
For all my snark, THE ROYALS: MASTERS OF WAR #1 sets the stage for a very solid story. It doesn’t really explore what superpowered beings would do to the course of history, but it very obviously wasn’t trying to. It was trying to tell the normal history of the war as enhanced by people who could fly and read minds. It wanted to be a metaphor for royals in history in general. They are people who wield immense power, yet allow their subjects to fight and die while they sit at home eating all the cake. And of course people get angry about that. The royals also have a tendency to inbreed, so as to prevent their royal blood from being diluted; in real life because reasons, and in the book because they literally cannot marry out for fear of producing weaker children. Despite not addressing several logical questions like the ones outlined above, the book understands history and how its elements can be bent into the story.
Art duties are handled by Simon Coleby, who does an adequate job making everything look nice and the characters distinct from one another. Colors are fairly washed out, but given the time period the book is set in the effect works. Also there’s something about the eyes: anyone who isn’t a main character is drawn with only vague lines denoting eyes. Like this world suffers from Liefeld’s Disease.
If you love WWII – if you really love WWII and haven’t been rendered sick of it through constant repetition – then THE ROYALS: MASTERS OF WAR #1 is a decent read. It’s the first of a six-part miniseries, so if it doesn’t end up all that great, it at least won’t go on forever. Keep in mind, however, that the book is intended for mature readers.