Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review: Last Siege #5

The Last Siege #5 came out last week and this title continues to impress me. As I have said before, this book has played out in my mind like a movie. At times the art has felt like storyboards. The panel layouts and viewpoints and extreme closeups have reminded me of spaghetti westerns or Kurosawa films. Trust me, all of that is high compliment. I have loved this story.

This issue, in one brief moment and one panel, I was thrust away from film and back into the comic book form. We'll get there I promise. But when something jarring or different happens in a book the way this did, I was shocked. And that is the best compliment of all. Because after reading comics as long as I have, being shocked is hard to come by. It's a small moment for sure ... but it mattered. So kudos to artist Justin Greenwood for bring this wonderful style to the book.

Best yet, writer Landry Walker starts to peel back the origins of the mysterious swordsman who has been protecting this last castle. We learn his name and his backstory.  We see how he is linked to the warlord King running roughshod across the land. We see how imagery from early in this book is paid off here. It all just clicks.

My comic store has been getting only a handful of these issues each month. So head out and find them or buy the eventual trade. You won't be disappointed.

On to the book.

Last month, Feist was defeated by our hero and the girl queen. But time isn't on their side. The barbarian King and his army has arrived to surround the castle.

The Easterner can't let this night challenge go unanswered.

Injured but unbowed, he gets on his horse and heads out to meet the king face to face. He'll hide his injuries as best he can.

This is a classic trope of Westerns, the injured gunman with a reputation heading out to send the robbers packing based on reputation alone.

That last panel, clutching his abdomen, face bathed in shadow, shows this isn't the iconic hero ready to fight. It reminded me a bit of a scene at the end of Dark Knight Returns where Carrie says that she sees Batman slump on his horse just once, tired and battered.

Woven into the current timeline is a flashback of our knight's past.

He was a headstrong prince. He had no time for courtly ritual. And so he was sent into the world by his father to smooth out the rough edges. Instead, he lived the life of a scoundrel, on the streets with his wit and his sword.

But even a scoundrel can be called home by a cry for help.

This imagery of our hero as a carrion bird, red eyed and angry, is apt. You might recall the book opens with similar birds picking at a carcass in the road. That image holds strong.

Returning home, he finds his lands overrun. His family decapitated, their heads on pikes. His siblings corpses being used as playthings (brrrr). All this done by a warrior from the mountains, stalking the land, amassing power, attempting to be king.

You can imagine the guilt this prince is feeling. He left his land to live a life of adventure and leisure. In his absence, his family has been killed. It brings a deeper layer to our protagonist. It makes him a ronin in a sense.

But it also means this is his homeland. He isn't some foreigner. He understands this place.

We finally get to meet the warlord king. In a scene right from the movies, a lightning flash brightens the night so we can see the enemies. Very dramatic.

And then, the man with no name finally gets one.

Our hero's name is Tomislav.

What's more, there is history between these two. The prose pieces in this book have been telling this story for us.

And then a wonderfully dramatic scene, Warrior king Istvan issues an ultimatum.

If Tomislav surrenders, all will be 'forgiven'.

Yes, the delightful closeup of the Western crops up again.

And if you trust Istvan, you haven't seen many of those movies.

Back to the flashback.

Tomislav, on seeing his family slaughtered, hacked his way through everyone he could.

Just like a fighting bird, he talons became slick with red blood.

That last panel should strike a chord, a symbol we saw earlier in the book.

The accompanying prose. how lost Tomislav is. How his name is meaningless now. He is a stranger, a man with no identity. It showcases that pain and it plays up his isolation. He is like a ronin.

That gnarled bird claw in front of a castle, as seen in that panel above is the crest of our hero. We know its origin now.

And then the turnaround.

Tomislav fires his own ultimatum back. It is Istvan who should lay down arms and leave.

Now that takes guts. One man, surrounded by an army, telling them to turn tail. Amazing.

Definitely has the feel of Eastwood alone in the dusty street. Or perhaps, Seven Samurai, were few stood against many.

In all seriousness, I need to make a t-shirt of that crest.

And then that comic moment.

We are five issues in. The art has been laid out before us like storyboards.

And then, Tomislav challenges the Istvan to one on one combat to settle the issue. He points his sword at his enemy, breaking the panel border.

It is the first time that a purely comic trick has been used on the artwork. That point jabbing out at us from outside the lines. After 5 issues of respecting the borders we get this and as a result it is very impactful. Sort of shocking.

I loved it.

Again we flash back.

Tomislav had been imprisoned by Istvan. He sat there stewing in his own juices, until be became simply an instrument of revenge.

That growing redness, showing how his rage has consumed him is a nice touch.

And then he is saved by King Aedon, the lord of this last castle. He is given the secrets of this land and this castle.

What is interesting for me is how this Tomislav in the back story, the adventurer who loathes himself and wallows in rage and revenge seems to be different from the cool, collected knight we have seen so far.

Regardless of motivations and history, his challenge to Istvan isn't taken well. The warlord tells his men to kill Tomslav. How can one many stand up against an army?

I guess we'll find out.

This is just what a middle chapter should do. By giving us backstory, we learn more about our protagonist. That alone pushes the plot forward. But learning more about Istvan and seeing this showdown in the present continues to move us down the line. Lastly, we get a great cliffhanger. Sometimes middle chapters can lull the reader. This increased my love of the book.

Definite congrats need to be extended to colorist Brad Simpson for his excellent palette, adding to tone by draping the night in blues, lit  by lightning as well as the red and sepia flashbacks. I also have to give proper recognition to Patrick Brosseau the letterer.

So hope folks find this book. From great story to art that shakes the reader to cinematic showdowns, it all works.

Overall grade: A

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