Friday, February 12, 2016

The Autumnlands I: Tooth and Claw

The Autumnlands I: Tooth and Claw
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Benjamin Dewey

You're on the wrong side.” Seven Scars leader of the Bison
Maybe, but this is the side I'm on.” The Champion

I had dropped by a local comic shop a few weeks ago, wanting to see if they had any word on when the 3rd volume of Rat Queens would be published (they did not) and spotted Autumnlands on the shelves. Now I am somewhat disconnected in some ways, so I hadn't heard of the series before seeing the cover. A cover where a dude was duking it out with a pair of humanoid Bison, surrounded by screaming anthromorphized creatures! That's a good way to get my attention, present the what makes your setting interesting front and center (side note, while I certainly enjoy pictures of pretty ladies, that's not going to get my attention for your comic, the shelves are way over saturated with that). I wanted to know what the hell was going on here. So I picked the graphic novel.

The Autumnlands is a fantasy comic published by Image comics, written by Kurt Busiek. Mr. Busiek was born in 1960 in Boston. His parents disapproved of comics, so he didn't start reading them until he was 14, when he was pretty much hooked. He would start writing comics professionally straight out of college in 1982 and went on to a rather decent career, being among other things the creator of the Thunderbolts (which he deserves a lot of praise for I think) and creating and writing Astro City, if you haven't heard of that series, you should look it up. I won't get into here expect to say that it won a lot of awards and well... Earned those awards. Needless to say Mr. Busiek himself has won a number of awards and as you can guess continues to work in comics. Benjamin Dewey the artist is younger then Mr. Busiek but has himself a rather good career in comics as well. He was born in Ohio, to a father who worked in a number of Art halls and museums. It's no surprise given this that he is trained as a painter, which shows to good effect in the book. He's also worked on a large number of comics. Honestly I like his style of art, it was detailed and stylized in a distinctive way that made the art recognizable and easy on the eyes.

The Autumnlands takes in a world inhabited by anthromorphic animals, some of them using magic are able to live in floating cities in a society of plenty and peace. Others without access to that magic have to live on the ground, for the most part making their living by gathering raw materials for the people on the floating cities. The cities are multi-ethnic with many varieties of animal people living in relative harmony while the ground dwelling animal folks seem to live in single species tribes. The relationship between wealthy city dweller and poor ground dweller is an uneasy one filled with suspicion and distrust. The ground tribes resent the city dwellers wealth and privilege and the city dwellers are firmly aware that if the ground dwellers would murder them all in their sleep due to frankly ill treatment which is demonstrated in the comic to good effect. This becomes the main conflict in the book but not the main problem if you'll allow me to expand.

The floating cities have a problem, they're running out of magic. This is bad because everything they got runs on magic. Basically when they run out of magic, civilization will collapse and most everyone will die. Another big problem is no one really has any idea what to do about it. Well, someone does have an idea of what to do, but the idea is insane. You see magic as a definite origin point, when a mythological figure called the great champion released magic into the world in the midst of a great battle with an evil wizard (although how can you have a wizard in premagic times? I think this myth has plot holes). So the wizard Gharta (who is a warthog) has a plan, craft a spell that reaches back into that misty past and yank the champion to the present and have him do whatever he did again to re-release magic into the world. Which is a rather insane plan, but well compared to the other options thrown on the table has the benefit of actually being a plan. Of course, Gharta is instantly told by the leader of her government (a bald eagle named Tallon) that this is extra heresy and therefore illegal (the comic gives us the image of a bald eagle screaming “THIS IS FORBIDDEN” at a warthog and I love it, I'm going to find that image on the internet and use it for something!). I kinda roll my eyes at this, you have an advanced magical society and something is forbidden without discussion because “the gods don't want us to?” There isn't even a priest caste here, whose coming up with these rules, why are they coming up with these rules, who is benefiting from these rules? Besides me I mean.

Well Gharta decides to do it anyways and convinces a group of wizards to help her. They gather on the smallest floating city and conduct their heresy and... Everything goes pear shaped! Well more like splattered egg shape, as the spell does pull in the champion into the present day... But also causes the city to crash, killing a large number of the population and smiting it's ruin upon the rock. The local ground dwellers, a bison tribe that has been much put upon by this very city sees this and thinks this is a great time to get some revenge. By killing all the survivors and looting the remains of the city. Into this fight comes stumbling the great champion, the creature claimed by every beast tribe, the founder of civilization, the father of magic... And he's a naked human who is pissed off and has no idea what the fuck everyone is babbling about. This is where the story begins.

I won't spoil the rest of it expect to say I enjoyed the story, the champion was an interesting guy who took a different route from most of the guy stranded in strange new world stories. He doesn't try to take charge or get involved in the local politics. His biggest interest is to keep a bunch of helpless people from being butchered. We don't learn much about him but what we do see is interesting. But the fact that he is human and from their past leaves us with a lot of questions. If humans existed in the past, why don't they exist now? Why do the animal people have no memory of humans? Where did magic actually come from? The internal conflicts are honestly less well done. I was left wondering how a certain warthog ever managed to be in charge of anything and kinda rolling my eyes at the secondary villain who is given no real redeeming traits what so ever. Seriously he isn't even all that intelligent frankly so I'm left asking how he gets away with so much shit? No one ever seems to call him on his shit and you think someone who had a lot of experience leading groups in extreme situations could have and been smart enough to realize it was necessary.

The book itself can be a bit gory, with a good amount of blood and dead people and full frontal male nudity on the champion for a page or two so this is not a book you want to share with children. While I was left unimpressed with the secondary villain and the political parts of the book, the rest of it was interesting and I was left wanting to know more about our main character and this strange new world. The Autumnlands by Kurt Busike and Benjamin Dewey gets a B-. It's an interesting world and main character but a lot of the conflicts could have been better done and the secondary characters needed more fleshing out. Next week we return to the Old Kingdom.

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