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Cover Art Appreciation: The Battle of Coventry by Les Dorscheid

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Of all the covers in Battletech books through the decades, my favorite might just be Les Dorscheid's reserved, understated cover painting for "The Battle of Coventry" scenario pack #1693. Now, Les is not my favorite artist for covers. That would probably be the famed Doug Chaffee, who's contributed so many gorgeous painterly pieces to the universe. Doug's art tends to emphasize the multiple layers of battle, combined with a lurid palette that glorifies every battle as a clash between titans. Wonderful stuff in my opinion.

But with Les's Coventry, there's a very tranquil and restrained touch that subverts expectations in the best way. As a piece of BT art, it's very much a contradiction in how serene it appears at first, before you notice the Shadow Cat's weaponfire, and glowy orange fires in the distant background. This contradiction is what gives the art its power and majesty, in my eyes.

The first thing that registers is the Shadow Cat marching calmly through the dense forest, keeping steady pace with the advancing Elementals in the foreground. The image is one of confident military precision, with the combined arms of infantry and Mech united in purpose and stride. Very much the picture of a well-oiled military machine, as we would expect from the Clans. The Elementals even look relaxed, with one in midjump, seemingly almost playful in tone. Most of BT's cover art portrays scenes that are tragic, dramatic, or distressed. Not so here.

The symbology that really stands out on a second glance are the birds of course, scattering in response to the arrival of these intruders. It can be seen as the natural world's reaction to this unfamiliar and foreboding presence, or the birds could be interpreted as harbingers of doom, signaling the advance of these Jade Falcons. Birds scattering in fear, or on the warpath? They're a really nice touch that emphasizes the central totem of the Clan, and the placement above an Elemental in flight is pretty much perfect.

Overall, Dorscheid's art tends to be minimalist in style, without the excessive paneling or linework of some BT artists. The Shadow Cat for example is strikingly simple, and looks seemingly carved from solid granite, with a chip here or there for battlewear. He's not concerned with little details or gribblies, but the overall imposing presence of the Clans. The impression you get is one of solid, unyielding, unearthly metal, placed against the backdrop of a very realistic and tranquil forest.

Even the gauss rifle fire from the Shadow Cat is portrayed in this toned down manner. It doesn't actually look like what you'd expect a photorealistic gauss rifle blast to look like, but really more of a primal elemental fire, spouting forth out of one of Man's war machines. Again, I appreciate Dorscheid's restraint in portraying a sci-fi weapons system from the 31st century, going for the understated presentation instead of a more complicated, overwrought look. In the foreground, we see the gauss blast cast warm orange hues on the tree trunks, lighting up the natural darkness of the sleepy forest. And in a sense, bringing light to a dark, uncivilized Inner Sphere, as the Crusader Clans see it.

As a whole, the painting is one that's surprisingly soothing and peaceful, and in my interpretation shows the advancing scouts of the Falcons, out in front of the main juggernaut of the JF Galaxies. In the distant backdrop, we can see the raging fires glowing faintly and the destruction that they foretell. The portrayal we get is the very tip of the spear, advancing on an unsuspecting and unprepared Coventry. Woe to the defenders of this world.

I hope to keep writing more of these pieces in the future.

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