Some writers can turn their hands to anything, others need to stay in their comfort zone; but when Remender gets it right, he knocks it out of the park.
Previously In Seven to Eternity: The God of Whispers has spread an omnipresent paranoia to every corner of the kingdom of Zhal; his spies hide in every hall spreading mistrust and fear. Adam Osidis, a dying knight from a disgraced house, must choose between joining a hopeless band of magic users in their desperate bid to free their world of the evil God, or accepting his promise to give Adam everything his heart desires. All men have surrendered their freedom for fear. Now, one last free man must choose.
Leaving your comfort zone
I make no apologies for the things I have said in the past about Rick Remender. He is the man who brought us probably one of the best X-Men series in the last three decades in Uncanny X-Force, but he is also the person responsible for the utter travesty that was AXIS.
He is a writer who works so well when utterly unconstrained, but chafes against anyone else’s expectations of what a character should be. I once said, and I stand by this, that he does not play well with others; he uses the toys he is given, breaks one, sits on one, shoves one up his nose and then unceremoniously dumps them all back in the toy box and lets someone else pick up the pieces. After AXIS he left the Marvel universe utterly changed, and in many cases completely upside down. In 5 minutes everyone except Sabertooth was completely back to normal; even Superior Iron Man only lasted 9 issues.
However where Remender’s strengths lie is in writing his own stories, ones where he can break as many toys as he wants without having to worry about what anyone else thinks. He took a little known X-Men team, filled mostly with second string X-Men (+ Wolverine) and made them into a solid selling book for 35 issues. It didn’t matter when he fried Warrens brain, no one had cared about him as a character since Uncanny went into reprints in 1970.
Sticking to what you are good at
Enough about Remender, this is a comic so the script is only half the story. Opena, much like Remender, is another comic creator who needs a bit of space. When on the clock at Marvel, expected to put out books on deadline every month, his art takes a turn for the worst. But left to his own devices, produces stunning, and slightly disturbing, work like this.
Very rarely do I read a comic and think I have seen something new. The last time I did was reading Rob Leifeld’s Prophet, and although that felt truly alien to me, it also felt wrong, uninspiring and frankly downright weird. This however gives me enough normality to be able to latch onto the characters while at the same time being exposed to these alien creatures, monsters and red-skinned elves. If I were to describe it, then it is a cross between Studio Ghibli Princess Mononoke with its tortured animal monsters and a surrealist painting with twisted landscapes and towering giants.
A great deal of respect also needs to be given to the colourist because without his work this would not be half as effective. Sometimes you look at a comic and think that it could be done by any comic artist as everything looks and feels formulaic, this is anything but that. It gives you everything from mood lighting, through different landscapes, fire, electrical lightning, magic effects, silhouette and dungeon darkness. It is enough for 5 graphic novels, let alone one single issue.
So, it’s a perfect comic then? Well obviously not, it needs a full written text page introduction, which frankly leaves you more confused than enlightened. The Mud King, while having possibly the worst name ever, also looks exactly like Xorn, but with red eyes instead of blue. And I get left with the nagging suspicion I have seen this story before, but I cannot put my finger on why or where.
Other than that, this is about as good as a #1 issue can get. It feels like a book much longer than its 28 pages, but without dragging or losing its flow. The fight sequences are astonishing in their implication of movement and action, the monsters and villains terrifying, but strangely believable. In some ways that is its greatest triumph; it gives you something so alien and strange, but makes it feel like it could be real and that these people in some way matter.
After quite how vitriolic I was about Remenber during AXIS, I am really pleased to see him come back with such an epic comic, and I use that word in its correct sense. This book feels like a tiny window into a massive world, one which I am going to love coming back to over and over again for as long as they can keep this going. This level of storytelling, combined with this artwork, makes this a must read book.