To paraphrase Sir Charles Barkley, any knucklehead can worldbuild. Levon Jihanian, no knucklehead, brings much more to the (gaming) table in this immensely likeable, refreshingly somber-looking alt-fantasy than just a bunch of Tolkienesque place names, invented history, and rules for magic concocted for some long-ago D&D campaign. His cool, clean line, most frequently deployed against large open white spaces for an almost minimalist effect; his characters’ predominantly unimposing physiques; his decision to keep his protagonist in an eye-obscuring bandit mask, rendering his emotions opaque unless we see tears streaming down from the fabric; even his creation-myth origin for the comic’s war-torn fantasy realm, revolving around the simple and powerful image of a literal crack in the world — all of these things combine for a fantasy comic that through sheer force of its thoughtful visuals has the air of interiority of the best alternative comics of any genre. This sense of reserve makes the moments of spectacle (the towering Spiral City, the curling tendrils of mist that guard it, the geometric patterns and spheroid explosions used to depict magic, a battle between an imposing cat-man and a seemingly unstoppable masked vampire) more spectacular, and the tried-and-true fantasy tropes and terminology (a council of wizards, the Desert of Thrones, Shattered Skull Peak – consult the v.v. JRRT map on the back cover for more) less of a cheap nostalgic guilty pleasure and more of a pleasure, period. It’s not revisionist, but it is refined, and that’s a fine thing for a fantasy comic to be.
FILED UNDER: Levon Jihanian