The Autumnlands #13
Written by Kurt Busiek
Illustrated by Benjamin Dewey
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Letter & Design by John Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt at Comicraft
Published by Image Comics
Super soldier Steve Learoyd and the terrier sorcerer Dusty have traveled a long way to the glowing mountain that is plaguing the local area with horrid mutations. With the help of their new comrade, Aelbert the goat man, they've plowed their way through abominations and scaled dangerous heights to reach the top. Up there, they discover something that will reveal yet another secret to the mysterious Autumnlands.
WARNING: mostly spoiler free, but might be a few minor slips here and there.
I've reviewed the previous issues of The Autumnlands during my short tenure at PopOptiq. If you want to catch up with the story, check those out. I'll be honest and say this particular arc has been slow-going. Five issues in, and it's felt like an epic grinder through world-building, sight-seeing, and character interaction. In this issue though, patience pays off big time.
The cover falls just short of excellent. The use of color in the yellow-blue spectrum gives the female sentinels godly statues; one feels their power and supernatural energy looking at them. They literally glow with feminine mystique. The only issue is the white line covering their nipples. It's awkward. Obviously, their needed because it's fine to show violence, but dear God the nipples! Think of the children! Ironically, if this was an attempt to avoid sexualizing the image, it does the exact opposite. By covering them up, it justifies the idea that nipples are sexual. They become a taboo and are subsequently fetishized. Nudity can be shown casually without being sexual. Key word: casual, therefore not taboo. Make it so. Also, from an artistic standpoint, it ruins the female sentinels' godliness. In depictions of gods from the past, many are nude for a reason. These are superior beings and among their symbols, bareness of their bodies symbolizes physical superiority. It drives home the point without sexual fetishization (unless they're gods of sex or something). Technically, these women are not gods, but how the cover presents them provides that quality. Censorship of their nudity undermines it.
Benjamin Dewey still rocks it with his semi-realistic art style that compliments the fantastical world rather than reduces it. This is thanks to his attention to detail and scope of scenery. Jordie Bellaire's colors flesh out Dewey's illustrations and creates a fully realized world. Particularly impressive in this issue is the opening action sequence. In the previous arc, "Tooth and Claw", there was a lot of action. This arc mostly was about scenery and capturing the landscape's beauty. It works to amplify the action, since now that the reader is familiar with the area, they can appreciate the uniqueness of fighting in a dense forest as opposed to an open field. There is more chaos, and the characters struggle to maneuver as bark and debris flies around them. It's epic, exciting, and expertly executed. As for the lettering, Roshell and Betancourt integrate the letters seamlessly. They don't get in the way or feel crammed in, but flow naturally with the action. No doubt, this sequence will be the highlight of the issue for many readers.
Kurt Busiek continues writing the arc as a balance between Learoyd and Dusty reaching their destination and slowly solving the mystery of the Autumnlands. When the heroes reach the mountaintop, the mystery of what's up there is solved, but leaves many more mysteries unsolved, which can be a bit confusing for readers trying to put together the pieces. However, there are enough clues to suggest one possible answer. The big reveal could potentially be a confusing mess, but given how Busiek is laying out the clues, there's hope for a satisfying conclusion.
Another highlight of this issue is the character growth of Aelbert. When first introduced, he's impulsive, charging into conflict without forethought. Although he doesn't change much, there is an emotional moment that reveals another side to him. Aelbert cares about his tribe and would do anything for them, even sacrifice himself for justice. This touches Dusty and Learoyd and they agree to help him. This scene is powerful and highlights Aelbert's heroism, expanding him beyond a careless meathead.
Finally, the story behind the women on the cover is a new potential. Already, this series has touched on power structures; readers have seen how the presence of magic and its finite supply created a class hierarchy between those with magic and those without. With it came bigotry and abuse, as the sky-dwelling magicians banished the non-magical people to the land below and used them as cheap labor. With the women, the Galateans as they're called, their existence is an issue of slavery and sexism. To avoid these issues would be tone deaf. However, exploring them will need care and ingenuity to avoid exploitation. Given how class has already been handled, Busiek will, hopefully, do these topics justice.
The Autumnlands #11 is a satisfying read with plenty of action and mystery. Accompanied with gorgeous art, this remains one of the best fantasy series in Image's already stellar roster of similar titles. Highly recommend for those that like big-idea stories that make you think.