I don't know if you've been getting any reviews yourself, Gus, but since you've been doing the community a solid I wanted to return the favor! I went ahead and read through your comic last night.
I'm going to do the review in the same general format as the ones you give here, though I don't have your intentions. I hope you find it helpful!
The Concord Initiative
I'll be blunt: Your style is excellent. It's the type of stylization I don't see often, but it has a real charm, flow, and graphic sense that is unique compared to a lot of what's out there. Your use of line and the flashes of color (an eventual transition to color?) to convey emotion are great, and I found myself engaged more with what you were saying with the art than the dialogue on the page. This was true even from page 1--which is saying something because you weren't as polished back then. It was a real treat to go and compare your first update with your most recent ones at the close of chapter 1, you've really solidified your style.
The design work is fresh. You nailed the time period you were going for and your characters are so expressive through their body language. There wasn't a time you skimped out on background detail when necessary, I always knew where I was and had an understanding of the space they were in.
Your paneling is really impressive and creative. There were a lot of pages that, as a creator myself, I felt compelled to stop and analyze because I had never seen it done that way before. I will probably look back on it for reference if I were to be completely honest! There were a few times where it was nontraditional to the point where I had to correct my reading habits in the moment to go in the correct panel order. Thankfully your lettering did a pretty good job of leading the eye where you wanted it to go rather than the pre-established route. There were a couple cases like the end of this update (last page) where I thought you were trying to lead my eye to the right with the word balloon, then back to the left, then right and down, but upon looking at it again it also works by going top left, down, then to the top right and down. So that's the only areas you have to be careful I think, make sure you're aware of your lettering choices with paneling like this.
With your art overall, the only thing I wasn't sure of was your choice of word bubbles and font. That is usually the place where you don't break out of the mold much because it's very easy to make it an illegible mess--but it's grown on me and I think it suits the style of the comic very well.
This is a writing style that, for better or worse, is made a little inaccessible because of how the language is stylized for the dialogue. I want to underline that this is not a bad thing, but it does take some patience and getting used to from a reader's perspective. It reminds me a lot of the webcomic Unsounded's dialogue--it's rich, unapologetically characterized to the culture of the characters, and has an overall "old timey" feel. Nothing is said plainly, and it does take some brain power and rereading to decipher it at times.
You ask a lot of patience from the reader upfront, relying on the visual intrigue of the dream sequence to get them to keep reading despite having no idea how it or the dialogue relates to this character. The only thing it establishes is the tone and that he is an authority figure of some kind that may not be living up to his position. Upon rereading it, I have the context now to understand it, but I will admit that my first reading was laced with confusion because I didn't know what I was getting into. I was mostly just trying to get through it so I could get to the next scene to understand what was happening.
It's pretty short (6 pages?) so I don't think it's a tall ask to want the reader to get through, and I wouldn't call it a problem. I mostly just wanted you to be aware of it because I wasn't sure if you had intended that effect.
The writing picks up here with no trouble. I found the way you introduced the characters was really engaging and the scenario was perfect for this. It was an excellent use of flashback--starting in the present and establishing their situation before flashing back to give us some insight into each prisoner was a great choice. You did a good job of establishing what kind of person each character is while still leaving bits of intrigue that make me want to find out more about them. One small complaint is that I still don't know who the main character is though, haha. It was set up to be the king, but it doesn't appear we'll be following him now.
Speaking of the king, I have no clue if he's just paranoid and delusional, or if he really is seeing the things that are freaking him out. If that's intentional, you're doing something right.
The last scene with the masked people again puts us somewhere with no context, and I still don't really get what they're talking about, but I think that's fine. I'm interested to learn more and it doesn't really put me off. (It seems we both have a masked Maestro in our comic though, hah!) I really like your designs here, too.
I only have one big gripe about the whole thing, and it is not a reflection on your technical skill. It's the distinct lack of females.
There has not been one female character on screen participating in the story, with or without dialogue. The most we get is an off screen gossiper. I realize that perhaps this is a time period where they may not hold high power within the social order, but it is odd to me to see them nowhere but a couple background instances. I feel you had several chances, even within your current cast, to make a few of them female since it revolves around criminals of the state.
It is not something that will make me stop reading, because I really do like the story overall, but it is a vast disappointment for me because it is yet another really interesting piece of media that did not seem to consider that half of its population exists. This is not meant to be an attack on your person, by any means--it's not as if you've been malicious or hurtful with portrayal of women--but I want you to be made aware that even the lack of something can have an impact on readers like me.
If this is something you care about changing, I would encourage you to be mindful of not only your upcoming cast, but your background characters in the future. Some people feel weird about this, but there is no shame in just switching an existing character's gender before they appear. It makes no difference aside from how they might be perceived by the world.
I apologize to leave this section on a sour note--while it is a real concern of mine, it by no means erases anything positive I've said in this review. I genuinely mean all of it.
It is a very enjoyable read that is solid on both the art and writing fronts. It takes a little bit of patience and immersion to get into it, but it is better for it. I would highly recommend it to anyone that likes a darker fantasy. I'm really interested to see where it goes from here!