Kat takes off into the woods to find Sybil – and finds her in the clutches of Clementine Biddle! Can she win her daughter’s freedom? Find out in The Autumnal #8 from Vault Comics!

THE AUTUMNAL #8

Writer: Daniel Kraus
Artist: Chris Shehan
Colorist: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Editor: Adrian F. Wassel
Publisher: Vault Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: June 30, 2021

Previously in The Autumnal: The Equinox arrives and along with it come strange winds and falling leaves. Kat and Sybil, trying to leave town, blow out a tire and walk through the woods, straight into a weird ceremony involving everyone from town. The Mayor welcomes Kat and Sybil and denies this is any kind of cult. But if anything, everyone seems far too welcoming and far too eager to have them here. The Mayor tells yet another version of the Clementine Biddle story, and in this one, Baby Biddle still lives, but just periodically needs to take a human life. And that human life, the one the townspeople are so happy to give, is none other than Kat’s daughter, Sybil.

THE ETERNAL CIRCLE OF LIFE AND DEATH

The Autumnal #8 starts right where the last issue left off, with Kat coming face to face with Rob, who has been taken over by Clementine. He didn’t believe the stories, but now he knows the truth. Clementine will use him to hurt Kat, and he has no control. He begs Kat to stop him.

Trauma has always been at the center of this story, and it continues here in the conclusion. We are tense, almost exhausted, from reading up until now, which is exactly where a horror story wants to take you. Kat hears Sybil’s voice and runs toward it, deeper into the forest.

And there she is, ensnared by Clementine Biddle, a huge, gnarled old tree with a distinctly human female shape and crowned with brilliant, scarlet leaves. Sybil calls out to her mama, and Clementine latches onto this, associating her own connection to the forest with that of mother and child, and this connection seems to make her value Kat as much as, if not more than, her daughter. Kat begs her to let Sybil go, trying to connect with her as one mother to another.

But this does not work. As Clementine explains, Kat has but one child; as part of a living forest, Clementine has lost billions of children over the years. Clementine Biddle’s child died long ago. The children taken from Comfort Notch live on around Clementine as young half human, half tree creatures. The forest lives on. The earth lives on. Humans live a brief life and return to the soil to, in turn, feed new trees. Kat absorbs this and continues to plead for Sybil’s life, but what Clementine needs is a child.

But Kat offers her something unexpected. She offers herself. She offers to release Clementine and take her place, but only if she lets Sybil go. I did not expect this, but as soon as you see it, it fits in beautifully with the story and with Kat’s character development. Clementine agrees and release Sybil. Kat tells her to run and hide, to take with her all of her own anger, and get away. And Kat prepares to let Clementine take her. But her life has changed since she arrived here; she is not angry enough.

But there is more to the story, an ending of poetic justice steeped in grief and rage, and it is glorious.

THE CLARITY OF DESPERATION

As The Autumnal #8 reaches its horrifying conclusion, the art takes a turn toward the abstract. The Clementine Biddle story lives a life of its own, no longer just a folk story turned into a childhood rhyme, but a living thread that binds the town together. To keep pace, we see a lot of symbolism. Red continues to be featured, the red of blood, leaves, and even anger, and it pulls us through the forest to where Clementine stands, the biggest tree of them all, both an awful caricature of a human woman frozen in rage and a tree at the peak of its fall glory.

But Clementine is no stationary tree, or perhaps her movement is in Kat’s imagination, but her skull-like face swoops closer to be within a couple feet of Kat. She speaks of her children, the hybrids who are curled around her in fetal position with tears of sap flowing from their empty eye sockets. She speaks of the earth, the air, the sky and we see time on the scale of a tree, something almost immortal, for whom a human life is practically mere seconds in comparison. And in the great scheme of things, what is a human life in the scale of the life of a planet? The art shows us planets, rings like the rings of a tree, tendrils that could be roots or worms or lightning. It gives the story gravitas and sweeps us along to the end.

BOTTOM LINE: A GRAND CONCLUSION

While The Autumnal #8 is not an issue to read alone, it is a fantastic close to the story. All the loose ends are tied up, and there is just enough of a twist to catch us. And you will never think of pretty fall colors the same way again.


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The Autumnal #8

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Kat cannot escape her destiny.

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By day, she’s a mild-mannered bureaucrat and Ms. Know-It-All. By night, she’s a dance teacher and RPG player (although admittedly not on the same nights). On the weekends, she may be found judging Magic, playing Guild Wars 2 (badly), or following other creative pursuits. Holy Lack of Copious Free Time, Batman! While she’s always wished she had teleportation as her superpower, she suspects that super-speed would be much more practical because then she’d have time to finish up those steampunk costumes she’s also working on.

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