The Masque of the
Buy at Amazon.com!
I actually feel like I should be slightly embarrassed to own Masque of the Red Death: Volume One. Or that I would be embarrassed if I possessed a sense of shame. But you know what? I like Wendy Pini. I like Elfquest and I don’t care who knows it. Elfquest was a ton of fun and way ahead of its time and some day everyone is going to realize that and stop making fun of it.
Masque of the Red Death you can make fun of, though. But it’s impressively good nonetheless.
Pini uses Edgar Allan Poe’s story of decadence and death as her jumping off point — Anton Prosper IV decides to seclude himself away from the outside world, only inviting a few people into his extravagant house. Among them are the crass and ambitious Madame Kabala and her beautiful son Steffan to work on his secret project. However, Steffan and Anton find a connection with each other and begin to break down the walls of secrets each have created.
And well, you know where this is going. Mostly, the basic plot is straight out of any convoluted anime series you’ve ever watched — this world comes with its own rules that it doesn’t really try to explain. The romance between Anton and Steffan is pretty much apparent from the first moment they meet, but the bigger concepts of the nature of the human heart and brain, the limitation of science do keep the book compelling. Anton and Steffan are a little bland, for all their secrets, but still likable, and Madame Kabala is delightfully devious (and her relationship with her son is more than a little creepy).
Pini’s always been in love with the look of late ’70s and early ’80s anime and manga and it works excellently here. While in my more disparaging moments, I would compare this to any of the Photoshop-enhanced artwork you find all over deviantART, that’s really not too fair — the art here has a wonderfully animated look to it that’s distinctive and lush. Pini uses color beautifully when Anton and Steffan travel through the Rainbow Chambers. The sex is surprisingly explicit but tastefully so (you don’t see everything, but you see enough) and if watching two pretty, skinny elfin boys get it on if your thing, it’s pretty erotic (if it’s not, then you probably wouldn’t want to be reading this book in the first place).
I was surprised at how caught up I got in the story and I look forward to seeing what happens next. This book is better than you want to think it is and so much fun.
(I can’t, in good conscience, specifically recommend this to teenage girls. But they’re probably the ones who are reading it anyway. So let’s just leave it at that.)
You can read Volume One and beyond at Go! Comi, but I personally don’t like the whole slightly “animated” interface of reading it. I like the attempt at doing something different, but it annoys me. I think it looks better in book form, too.