When I heard that Kurt Busiek, the maestro of Astro City, had another creator-owned property coming out, I knew immediately that I was on board for the ride. But what in the world would the whole thing be all about? Your Major Spoilers review of Tooth And Claw #1 awaits!
Previously in Tooth And Claw: Kurt Busiek started his career in the late 1980s, on the likes of Power Man And Iron Fist & The Red Tornado. It was really the debut of Marvels that cemented him as a fan favorite writer with a unique perspective, followed not long after by the debut of Astro City, the series that put everything superhero-related in a whole new light. For over a decade, he’s been germinating the seeds of what would become ‘Tooth And Claw’, a world where anthropomorphic animals live, supported by powerful sorcerers, in floating cities. “Here’s what you need to know about us,” says our narrator, Dunstan. “We were good and gentle creatures…”
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First off, we have to take into account the amount of story we’re being given here: 44 pages of world-building for the price of a standard 20-page comic. That’s impressive, and also a really smart way to give people a little extra bang for their buck on the first issue. The opening pages of this issue give us Dunstan’s perspective on the world, a master-class in how to put together a setpiece, as our narrator and his father set out on a trade expedition to another land. It’s impressive stuff, especially the detail that artist Benjamin Dewey gives the people and places of Dunstan’s world, especially the character designs. Their visit to a tribe of bison goes poorly (a fact that his father anticipated), and upon returning home, Dunstan is quickly caught up in the grandeur of a collection of the greatest sorcerers of the seventeen cities. The issue does slow down a bit as it works to introduce and explain the basic natures of magic, admittedly, but the characters introduced are pretty fascinating. Gharta The Seeker, a warthog who has little use for glamour or status, attempts to build an alliance among her fellow sorcerers, a desperate plan to save the magic that binds their world. Why is she worried?
“MAGIC IS *FAILING*.”
Because, as all the magicians realize, that magic is starting to unravel. Her plot is immediately voted down by the authority of First-In-Council Tallon (who has the beautifully rendered head of an eagle), and the rest of the issue deals with the fact that her plan (to use magic to reach back and bring a legendary Champion to the present day to help repair magic) has officially been unsanctioned. In a world where ‘Game Of Thrones’ has become a massive success with roughly 5,000 named characters and interlocking plots and chicanery, the world of ‘Tooth And Claw’ should find receptive audiences, and even though it gives us a LOT to digest with this number one, it does so clearly and understandably. Most endearingly to me, there is a mystery hidden within these pages that is expertly delivered in both story and art, and even playfully toyed with in the text page, and that mystery is the most fascinating aspect of a fascinating book for me. The art is lovely, keeping the animal likenesses realistic and expressively humanoid without falling prey to Disneyfication, and the great wicker city is really impressive. As the issue ends, we’re left with a world that Dunstan assures us has changed forever, but more importantly, one that I want to read more about…
THE BOTTOM LINE: UNLIKE ANYTHING YOU’VE EVER READ
This story isn’t ‘Astro City’, nor is it ‘Marvels’, but it’s still Kurt Busiek doing his best work. The big action sequence of the issue is amazing, with consequences that matter to us as readers, even after only having known these characters for 30-odd pages. I might have preferred another few pages for the events of the story to play out, I’m satisfied with the point where this issue cuts off, and would have been frustrated with a break earlier in the story. Most importantly, I’m invested in finding out what’s going on with The Champion, with Gharta, with Dunstan, and given my general aversion to stories with an overt fantasy element, that’s an achievement by these creators. Tooth And Claw #1 feels like the beginning of something very unique and compelling, with some beautiful coloring, and a splash page (Page 35, if you’re counting) that’s worth the cost of admission all by itself, leaving us with a breath-taking 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. I’m looking forward to issue #2…