REVIEW: 'Count' (OGN) by Ibrahim Moustafa, Brad Simpson, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

 A sci-fi reimagining of the greatest revenge story of all time: The Count of Monte Cristo.


Framed for treason and wrongfully imprisoned at the hands of a jealous rival and a corrupt magistrate, Redxan Samud escapes his hovering prison colony hell-bent on retribution. Given a map from his dying jail companion to the location of a stolen cache of Union Credits large enough to make him wealthy beyond imagination, Samud concocts a plan to exact revenge on those who conspired to let him rot in a cell.

COUNT
Writer: Ibrahim Moustafa
Artist: Ibrahim Moustafa, Brad Simpson
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Publisher: Humanoids Publishing
Release Date: March 17, 2021
Cover Price: $19.99

Score:
★★★★★ (5/5)

I'm embarrassed to say I never read the literary classic 'The Count of Monte Cristo' by Alexandre Dumas. I've read about it and how it's influenced revenge stories in the 177 years since its publication. The story of Edmond Dantès, a man who is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes from jail, acquires a fortune, and sets about exacting revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment has served as a sort of blueprint for stories about vengeance in every medium. Ibrahim Moustafa's own ambitious take on the material takes on a science-fiction approach in this excellent original graphic novel entitled 'Count.'

Instead of Dantès, the hero is Redxan Samud, a different kind of sailor on a different kind of ship. Similarly poised to take over as captain of the (space)ship, his enemies conspire to frame him and imprison him. Adaptations can be tricky things to write. How much of the original material do you hold onto, how do you differentiate between the source and your own vision, how do you make an equally interesting version without copying and pasting? It's something that I gave a lot of thought as I read 'Count.' What is Moustafa doing that makes this umpteenth retelling special or provocative?

Thrusting the story into a futuristic setting adds a lot of character and innovations built on the source instead of copied. Some of the machinations remain the same but adding a robotic partner and mysterious and deadly henchman of his rival really elevates the adventure with some surprising twists and superb action sequences. The symmetry between merchant shipping on sea and space is seamless and lends itself to easy transitions. It's the character work and dialogue that shine. I tended to hang on to every word spoken by every character. Nothing was a throwaway line as it all contributed to advancing or informing the plot. 

The art of Moustafa and Brad Simpson gives the comic a regal and elegant aesthetic with a more realistic portrayal of the characters and their environments. Yes, there are robots and seemingly inhuman assassins but this is a grounded story that holds on to themes of loss, betrayal, loyalty, and courage in the face of oppression so the more outlandish elements don't outshine the more emotional ones. It's all brought to life with Moustafa's expressive pencils, Simpson's beautifully subdued colors, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou's versatile lettering.  

'Count' is beautifully put together with heart, passion, and expertise. Moustafa honors Alexandre Dumas' classic while creating a stunning sci-fi adventure that impresses at every turn. Swashbuckling action and heartfelt beats make this a satisfying graphic novel to get lost in. The previously Eisner-nominated Moustafa should expect another nomination to come his way. 

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