I love it when a story comes with a map. From beloved books like A Game Of Thrones, or Lord Of The Rings to brand new comics like Umbral, maps send a message that you’re in the hands of someone who knows their world. So it was a nice start when opening up Saltire: Invasion, to be greeted with a view of Scotland, albeit peppered with intriguing fictitious locales. The story may be set in Scotland, but there’s fantastical twists that make it more than you may be expecting.
Being on the fringes of Saltire’s gradual journey to release meant I’d caught bits of art and scraps of information, but I wasn’t quite certain what I was getting into. To cut right to the heart of it, Saltire takes historical Scotland and throws an overlay of light fantasy across it. The graphic novel in question is actually split into two “books” which essentially equate to two oversized comic issues. Book 1 deals with Scotland’s invasion by Roman forces, while Book 2 hops back in time and acts as an origin story of sorts for the protagonist, the magically summoned warrior Saltire himself.
Book 1 is the weaker of the two. It suffers from some overly wordy portions and a little bit of unnecessary exposition. We meet a ton of characters who turn out to not actually be necessary to the plot. Thankfully though, when the action gets going the quality kicks up a notch. The amount of dialogue is toned down and instead the artwork takes over to tell the story.
Speaking of the art, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Depending on the panel there are moments where the characters look like they have real gravitas to them. But some scenes are noticeably lighter on detail, looking more sketchy and unrefined compared to other panels. Still the soft painted look works well with the mythical style story, it makes everything seem a bit dreamy and ethereal. It’s decent artwork and it’s certainly passable for an indie book, but even at its best it won’t blow you away.
Book 2 has stronger writing and is much better structured. While Book 1 feels a bit too frantic and uneven, the second story feels more carefully paced. There are even a few moments of humour too. The story’s end also sets up some future adventures for the hero implying there is plenty more to be told.
Saltire himself is being positioned to be a new Scottish comic book hero, and this is a decent start for him. As a character he’s got a sense of personality to him, but his physical ability and striking appearance are the main draw in this book. While in Book 1 he’s more of a force unleashed upon the enemy, we see more of his actual character in Book 2.
The use of occasional thought bubbles makes the story feel a bit dated and cheesy, they’re used far less frequently in the second story and it’s better for it. Although they may have fit in a couple of decades ago, the modern comic has simply evolved beyond using them. It’s a strange criticism but when they’ve essentially become extinct, any modern comic using them can’t help but come across as corny.
With the strange mix of quality the first story comes off as more of a pilot episode or proof of idea, while the second story is a more confident and solid start for the character. Something further reinforced by the odd choice to place the stories in opposing chronological order.
To conclude, Saltire Invasion is a graphic novel of ups and downs. The action scenes are where it really gets going and, as I’ve often insinuated, the second story is notably superior to the first. There are some problems, but after finishing I felt compelled to keep an eye on the brand. You can tell there’s a lot of thought that’s gone into this and there are plenty of teased ideas that haven’t yet been covered. Something about the premise and execution is still alluring despite the drawbacks. When Saltire is good, it is genuinely good, it just staggers too many times.
Saltire: Invasion is a difficult comic to wholeheartedly recommend, there are simply too many little problems with it to fully justify the price tag, which is rather large for just two extended issues. But if the premise is too intriguing for you to pass up, there are some redeeming qualities that could make it worth a look.