It seemed that Steve Skroce had all but left comics behind before he returned to collaborate with Brian K. Vaughan on We Stand On Guard in 2015. The dystopian allegory about American invasions and the causes of terrorism was a bright reminder of Skroce's incredible talent, in spite of its dour themes. Complex design work, clear acting, and some of the most refined pencils in comics today combined to create a complete and compelling world. That return must have hooked Skroce, because he's back again for another mini-series at Image that is every bit as gorgeous: Maestros.
Skroce is both writing and drawing all of Maestros with Dave Stewart providing colors. While the style is similar to We Stand On Guard, Skroce's turn at plotting this story sets a dramatically different tone. Politics and allegorical horror are stripped away in favor of exploitation and excess. There's still a feeling of shock and awe throughout the first issue, but that's due to the persistent violence and sexuality of the story. These elements feel more like a lark at a midnight movie than something to be pondered, and that's not a bad thing. Maestros feels like a fun comics story, and that's what provides the first issue its hook.
The series is set on Earth, but on an Earth made by a wondrous predecessor still filled with magic and all of the trappings of the fantasy genre. Rather than devolve in a spoof of that genre, Maestros focuses on the opportunities presented by a rule bound by poor physics and few limits. There's a call out to Gandalf, but Skroce isn't engaged by discussing Lord of the Rings, instead he's making a comic filled with sex and killing that can be accomplished in a thousand visually fascinating ways. In the first issue alone, the protagonist is brutally devoured, and Skroce alludes to that being repeated.
It's in the monsters and how they wreck the world around them that the series is at its best. Every sequence provides some level of grotesquerie. At its most heightened, sentient, mutant plants slaughter a strip club. In the most mundane moment, a hideous minister discusses ideas just as awful that engaged readers can only hope to see soon. From the artist who developed fantastic landscapes in films such as Speed Racer and The Matrix trilogy, it quickly becomes apparent that this series is an opportunity to invent at the quickest pace possible There's no idea that is impossible here and no producers or writers to hold back concepts, no matter how crude.
Elements of character and plot provide a sturdy structure for this non-stop invention, but they are secondary in nature. There's a mother-son relationship that may be worth exploring and plenty of politics at play, but they are scaffolding for detailed constructs, splashes of violence and wonder, and a brilliant array of colors to be built upon. Readers seeking to be morally challenged may want to look elsewhere. Maestros understands there is a moral universe, and seemingly seeks no piece of it. This is debauchery for its own sake, and it looks exactly like the sort of fantasy comic many of its own characters might enjoy reading.