The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw, is a brand new series from Image Comics and has quite the superstar cast of creators working on it.
Kurt Busiek provides the story with his usual knack for writing tales that spin off in excitingly unexpected directions. Meanwhile Benjamin Dewey uses his incredibly flexible talents here to produce some stunning artwork. To top of it off colours are provided by Jordie Bellaire, who has brought so many comics to life with her phenomenal work over the last few years I wouldn’t even know where to begin listing them. Finally Comicraft handle the lettering, with the high quality you’d expect from them. Unsurprisingly altogether this team have created an exceptional comic.
It’s difficult to talk about volume one of The Autunmnlands without stepping into spoiler territory. As so much of the comic’s entertainment comes from not knowing what’s going to happen, I’ll refrain from giving anything away. The premise of the book is that magic is dying. We enter the story and are greeted by a world of anthropomorphic animals in a high fantasy setting. Characters give prayers to their multitude of Gods as they travel on flying cities powered by magical spells.
The opening chapter of the story throws a lot of characters at you and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s perhaps a bit of a weaker start to the series compared to the bulk of the volume. However it’s not long before the real story begins and the plot swerves onto a new track, which is much more involving and a lot more fun to follow.
Unlike some stories, The Autumnlands doesn’t try to hold your hand and spell out how its setting works. Instead it shows you through the plot and helps you quickly figure out that this is a setting with political disagreements, a class system and an uneasy overreliance on magic, something many are beginning to fret over. A key question on the cast’s mind is what will happen when the final drops of magic dry up? It’s this question that drives the cast to increasingly extreme measures in an attempt to find a solution.
The artwork of the series suits the setting and story perfectly, I can’t imagine reading this story with any other art. The anthropomorphic characters are filled with personality and careful designs ensure they look surprisingly grounded and realistic. Meanwhile the characters populate gorgeous painted scenery and detailed steampunk looking cities. Everything about the art is teeming with life and hints at the wider setting. When combined with the writing this feels like a world that could have been established years ago through other stories, you can tell a lot of effort has gone into mapping out its culture and history.
The tone of the series is fairly serious, which might be a surprise considering one of the main characters is after all a dog, but thankfully it all works. The presence of the different animal species is used cleverly in the plot but at the same time the story doesn’t depend on it. Canine or not, these characters are just as well rounded and engaging as any other well written comic book cast.
Thematically the comic deals with the often problematic issue of heroes and idols, characters are forced to question where their faith is placed and what they’re willing to risk as a result. Under the surface there are also themes of colonialism and racism explored, this is a much more intelligent and thoughtful comic than you might expect. Although the bulk of it relies on tense negotiating as prickly characters clash over ideals and opinions, there’s also plenty of action to keep fantasy fans who are looking for some swordplay happy. As the volume continues the consequences become deadlier and it all builds to a tense conclusion.
In the six issues contained within this first volume, there’s a great chunk of story altogether. Although this is an ongoing comic, so not every thread is tied up, there’s enough of a conclusion to feel like you’ve comfortably reached the end of the first slice of the story. It also leaves the story open enough to make the prospect of the next collected volume, or the upcoming first issue of the next volume, extra enticing.
Altogether this is a fantastic opening volume. The Autumnlands is a clever and captivating comic that’s well worth reading. What we get here is only a hint of a world that seems to be gigantic, the next instalment can’t arrive soon enough.