Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: The Last Siege #8

The Last Siege #8, the final issue in this mini-series, came out this week and was a bloody finish to an incredible story. No big surprise on the visceral factor. I compared this movie to 'Seven Samurai meets Braveheart' at some point. But there was for me a surprise at the end of this story. But as I have heard Landry Walker say in the past, 'give the audience what they need, not what they want.'

There is so much that I have liked about this book, all spelled out in prior reviews. To reiterate, there is a very cinematic feel to this story, leaning into certain film genres like 'spaghetti westerns' with extreme close-ups getting more and more focused.

The art has been raw and gritty with Justin Greenwood managing the pacing and page layout expertly. Sometimes it is just a panel of an eye. Other times it is a battle of armies. Other times, the panels tilt more as we read, mirroring the action of the characters. Colorist Brad Simpson started out with a palette of purples and grays but quickly has moved to oranges and yellows as the battle field has gone ablaze.

For me, it is the story that fuels this. Tomislav, the absentee prince who returns home from carousing to find his land in ruins. Istva, the warlord king who thinks fear and power leads to nobility. And most importantly Lady Cathryn who has to grow from innocent girl playing with dolls to battle scarred leader over the course of days. It is truly her story. She is the one who grows here, changes.

I am sad to see this book ending and would recommend folks seek out the trade. It is definitely worth it.

We have learned through his actions just how odious Istvan is.

With the castle destroyed and the land ablaze, it looks like Istvan's remaining army is big enough to overrun the meager rebels.

To remind us how awful he is, Istvan asks that Tomislav be brought to him for personal justice. The men can otherwise do whatever they want to Cathryn.

There is too much awfulness implied with that statement.

Cathryn won't go down without a fight. She bites the arm of the first man who grabs her. Remember, the earliest issues have her silent, playing with a dollhouse. Those innocent days of docile peace are over.

Meanwhile, Istvan makes it clear to Tomislav. Tomislav won't be killed quickly. There won't be the release of death. Tomislav will suffer. He will kneel. It is symbolic.

I talked above how much Cathryn has grown in her role throughout the story.

From a physical point of view, the young lady, hair up in a bonnet, in a fancy dress ... that person is gone. Now, hair down and free, one eye bandaged, hands gripping a sword is what we see.

But even outside of the physical changes, we see how much personally she has grown.

Now she stands before these men as a leader. She begins to dismantle Istvan's brand of leadership. These men should feel ashamed. They are organized and intent on killing a 'little girl' because Istvan says so.

The Cathryn from issue #1 would not be able to do this.

Meanwhile, Istvan just batters Tomislav for page upon page. In the end, Istvan actually buries Tomislav's family sword into our hero's gut. I guess death will be a release.

I have to say, in some ways I was happy to see this. Istvan has been fighting for a while. He has been buried by wreckage. He isn't super-human. Istvan, relatively untouched in combat, should be able to mop the floor of our tired, ragged protagonist.

This issue Greenwood seemed to be bringing the 'Frank Miller' look to the art. In some places, I felt a little 'Ronin'. But this panel really got my attention.

I couldn't help but be reminded of this iconic panel from Miller's Dark Knight Returns.

I talked about the "cinematography" of this book.

Here, Cathryn rallies Istvan's remaining army to her side. She talks to them as people, reminding them of who they are and what they were. She recognizes many of them. She talks of how Istvan has killed their people, butchered their loved ones. They shouldn't be sided with him. They need to wash themselves clean of the blood on their hands.

It is one thing to see these panels, zooming in on Cathryn's eyes, as a way to show her resolve, to build the tension and strength. But the desaturation of color as we proceed also plays into it. There is something dark, something determined, something more 'black and white' about this now.

As for Tomislav, he is still barely alive, his own sword sticking out of his abdomen.

Even in this distress, basically waiting to die, he see what Cathryn has done. Istvan needs to be worried ... but not about Tomislav. There is someone else.

Despite his shattered face, there is something almost whimisical about that last expression. He is smug and satisfied because he knows Cathryn has turned the tide.

And then a wonderfully dramatic moment I can see play out in my mind.

Istvan turns to see who Tomislav could be talking about. Of course, Istvan being who he is, he is most likely expecting some other warrior, some hulking man wielding an axe or the like.

We see someone's outline in the smoke.

And then, out of the mist, stands the true hero and leader ... Cathryn. The men have rallied behind her.

This is incredible.

There is still a blood debt to pay.

We knew it would come down to these two.

Istvan still thinks he can grasp control. Killing Tomislav will help.

Again, like a Sergio Leone western, we get the extreme closeups. But now we saturate more towards the red side of the spectrum. This isn't Cathryn's cool leadership. This is a prelude to combat.

Tell me you can't see this rolling out in your mind like a movie. Tell me you aren't hearing music akin to an Ennio Morricone's score in your head.

Pulling his family sword out of his own gut, his body like a scabbard, Tomislav slashes Istvan's throat. Both men die.

I do my best to dissect the books I love.

But here we are at the end of this story and I finally see that Istvan's 'crown' was not a tiara or laurel wreath style. It was once a true ring which was broken. Most likely, Istvan buried a weapon in a real king's head, shattered this crown, and grabbed it for his own.

Is there anything more symbolic of how Istvan isn't a true king than his wearing a broken crown?

How did I miss this?

With Istvan dead, Tomislav lets go and joins his family in the afterlife.

We started this story with crows picking at a carcass on the road. We learned that crows are part of the family crest and symbolism of Tomislav's family. So it is fitting that the end shot be the crows circling the battlefield while the survivor's mourn Tomislav's death.

I thought the final issue would be a nonstop brawl between Tomislav and Istvan.
I thought Tomislav would survive.
I thought he would take a still naive Cathryn under his wing, teaching her about loyalty and shepherding her as queen.

None of those things happened.
The final fight is brief and bloody.
Tomislav dies.
Cathryn is forced to grow up quickly. She is already a leader.

Give the audience what they need, not what they want.

This mini-series flew under the radar. But it was fantastic.

Wonderful all around.

Overall grade: A

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