It’s no secret that Image Comics is the place to be right now when it comes to telling new and unconventional comic tales. There are a number of series released by the publisher that are taking the comic genre to new heights. The reason is obvious: they’re letting talented creators produce stories that they want to tell with characters they create and have ownership of. All the big name comic talents have books at Image these days from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to Mark Millar to Matt Fraction to Kelly Sue Deconnick……the list goes on and on. It’s seems like each passing week, a new series comes along from another established creator that we just have to check out. This past Wednesday was no different.
Hitting the shelves yesterday was a new ongoing series from one of the better writers ever to have hit books with both Marvel and DC. The issue presents the beginning of an epic tale involving magic and the fate of an entire civilization. It also stars talking animals. I know, a sprawling fantasy involving talking animals is not necessarily a new idea in the world of graphic fiction. But when Kurt Busiek is the mastermind behind said fantasy, it becomes very clear that we, the reading audience, are in for a true gem of a comic book. Working with artist Benjamin Dewey and colour artist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire, this first issue is packed with 48 pages of world building and character exploration. And NO ADS! To say this is a great way to start off an ongoing series is an understatement….but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at Tooth & Claw #1.
Tooth & Claw #1
Written by: Kurt Busiek
Art by: Ben Dewey
Our story begins in place called Keneil, a magical city among the clouds that is inhabited by a group of dog people. They worship gods and keep their city afloat with the use of magic. Wizards and Mages are the elder statesmen of the city and live in priviledge over the animal people that live on the earth below. Keneil is only one of such city as there are numerous throughout the area, each sporting their own species of animal persons – there are cities with just owls, cats, bears, etc. On this very important day, representives of the seventeen cloud cities have gathered at Keneil to discuss one very important problem: magic is failing. There is less and less magic in the world and if they want to preserve their way of life, they must find a way to keep it from going extinct. The main counsel doesn’t know what to do. But there is one person who has a plan: a warthog woman by the name of Gharta (from the city of Daiir). She knows the history of magic and knows that it was created by a great champion who opened the gates to this power to stop the destruction of the world a great many years ago. She believes that with a skilled group of wizards, they can work together to pluck this mythical champion from the time stream and bring him forward to their era to once again release magic to the earth. Some are against her plan but many see no other way. They meet in secret and bring the summoning about. What follows is catestrophic as a great deal is lost…..but does the gamble pay off?
Some writers have a wheelhouse, a place they need to be in to produce their greatest work. Busiek’s wheelhouse is great characters. That’s it. As long as he’s aloud to produce and develop a great deal of interesting characters, the rest will take care of itself. Look at the stories he’s produced over the past 20 years: Marvels, Astro City, Conan, Avengers, Arrowsmith, Shock Rockets, The Wizard’s Tale. The only thing any of these books have in common is that they are all heavily driven by their characters. With Tooth & Claw, he continues to use this formula. Right off the bat, we’re introduced to Dusty, a young dog whose father is the head wizard of Keneil and is in training to take his father’s position when he grows up. He’s full of wonder to the world around him and a bit naive. He’s the perfect window into this new world. As the story unfolds, we see the world through his eyes and feel his pain and fear when things go awry. Being a child, he’s able to get almost a spy’s view into what’s happening. The wizards introduced are also an interesting lot, especially Gharta, who is not only the woman with the plan, but also an ambitious and rebellious type who’s focused on her goals. She’s not necessarily bad but not necessarily good either. I like that Busiek presents us with a complex character right from the start and who knows when we’ll make up our minds on whether we like her or not.
The artwork on display for this first issue is breathtaking. Benjamin Dewey’s layouts have a great deal of depth to them that it feels like we’ve been dropped into a fully developed and realised world. And just as interesting as the environments are the characters that inhabit them. They’re a bunch of anthropomorphic animals. They have classes and cultures that are easily understood just by looking at them. The nuance of each individual is felt. There is no point where it feels like Dewey just drew a bunch of characters. Each one feels unique. This world and character building is aided by the amazing colour work of Jordie Bellaire who I can most assuredly say is my favourite colourist working today.
If you’re looking for a book that will feed your love of fantasy and sports a cast of interesting characters, you need to check out Tooth & Claw #1. I believe that this title may end up bringing some true magic to the comic page.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!