Ruse is one of those unfortunate comic book masterpieces that was cut down way too early in its prime, all thanks to its parent company CrossGen Comics going out of business. Damn it. The series ran from November 2001 to January 2004 for a total of 26 issues on its monthly schedule. The first half of the series was written by Mark Waid (of DC’s Flash and Marvel’s Captain America fame) and then followed up by Scott Beatty, better know for his work in the comic book encyclopedia world than anything else. Pencilling chores fell to Butch Guice, with inks by Mike Perkins and colors by Laura DePuy. Creation credits fell to CrossGen founders Mark Alessi and Gina M. Villa.
What sets Ruse aparts from others is its unique fantasy-fuelled, Victorian-era detective fiction genre, coupled with complex plots and some particularly witty repartee between its two main protagonists. The story revolves around super sleuth Simon Archard, a cold, logical and calculating man, and his assistant (or partner depending on whom you ask) Emma Bishop, a lady with her own fair share of secrets mind you, who run around solving mysteries in Partington, though at the same time are drawn ever deeper into the mysterious story of the artifact known only as the Enigmatic Prism, a powerful device that incites the most evil of desires within people. Of course, with someone of Simon’s great prowess, success rate, intellect and ability (as well as lack of people skills), the man is not without his fair share of arch-nemeses and often is forced to pit his wits and logical ability against these most nefarious (and sometimes magic-wielding) of foes!
Mark Waid introduces the reader to a wonderfully detailed, authentic-feeling Victorian-ages time period, painting us a picture of what life during that age may very well have been like, even though the world of Arcadia is slightly tainted by the ever presence of magic and mythical beings, things that Simon doesn’t particularly care to believe in funnily enough. Waid manages to script some delightful, twisted and complex plots and ends up delivering one of the finest examples of detective-fiction coupled with a hint of magical drama and mystery just for kicks. A particularly strong point is the extremely good characterization of all the main players in the story, and his fine sense for witty repartee between Simon and Emma makes for a thoroughly entertaining read. The stories and mysteries are dark enough to elicit a sort of urgency to them all, but at the same time get marvelously balanced out by apt moments of comedy, wit and wonderment, enough to leave you hanging on each and every single page.
Butch Guice is a legend with the pencil, producing some of the most life-like, detailed visuals you could ever ask for, particularly suited to this Victorian-age setting. His characters, their clothes and hairstyles, the buildings and the props, all just ooze the correct time frame and his incredible focus on detail makes one want to linger over each and every panel, far longer than what you would normally care to do for any other artist. His female depictions are a thing of beauty and his action sequences particularly well carried out, in fact, there is hardly anything one can even dare to fault him on!
Thankfully his beautiful pencils are equally adeptly handled by the British inker Mike Perkins who manages only to enrich Guice’s already stunning visuals and panel layouts and on top of that, Laura DePuy takes everything one step further by adding the last depth and effect thanks to her solid colouring efforts.
In other words, if you can lay your hands on Ruse then you really, really should. It is extremely clever, extremely witty, extremely engaging, it looks absolutely fantastic and reads like a real detective fiction yarn should. Different from most and well worth the time and effort of working your way through it, simply put, it’s one of those comic book must reads that you always hear people going on about!
Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruse_(comics)