by Greg Pak, Trevor Hairsine, Clayton Crain, Diego Bernard
In a vacuum, the first volume of Eternal Warrior, would have been a reasonably decent book; however, when taken within the context of the Valiant Universe, Sword of the Wild fails from almost the very beginning. The titular hero, Gilad Anni-Prada, had previously been well-established during the “Wraith of the Eternal Warrior” arc of Archer & Armstrong (and in his later appearances in X-O Manowar and Unity), but his characterization in this volume is completely at odds with that of those titles. For anyone who had liked the character before reading this first volume, this sullies the entire reading experience.
Beginning in Ancient Mesopotamia and spanning until sometime close to the present day (given the presence of Buck, it would have to occur before Archer & Armstrong #5), Sword of the Wild is the story of Gilad’s relationship with his dutiful son Mitu and his violent, rebellious daughter Xaran. Along the way he must also battle the Death Cult of Nergal while questioning his duties as a servant of Earth.
The (arguable) mischaracterization of Gilad might be easier to accept if it didn’t factor so heavily into the story. Unlike the doggedly determined individual that we saw in Archer & Armstrong, here he not only turns his back on his responsibilities, he does active harm to his own deity. Theoretically, it could have been writer Greg Pak’s plan to have Gilad evolve over the course of the series into the something that more closely resembled the established character. Unfortunately, he makes for a rather unlikeable protagonist for the time being.
Even putting aside problems with the titular character himself, the story in this volume is still on the weak side. The vast majority of this book is spent setting everything, but there’s very little in the way of payoff. The antagonists are particularly underdeveloped, barely being introduced and then given almost no screen time. Even their motivation remains unclear; essentially, the various factions that Pak has created are always struggling against one another throughout time in order to gain the upper hand, but idea is that balance must always be maintained. This would seem to be an acceptable premise, but mostly it feels like an afterthought to the Eternal Warrior’s relationship with his children.
Fortunately, that aspect of By the Sword is one of the few elements that actually works. The interactions between Gilad and Xaran are easily the strongest-written scenes in the book. There’s a lot of complex emotions at play which are excellently conveyed by the creative team. The team even managed to work in a couple moments of genuine humor, most of which revolve around the various weapons used by the protagonist. It does seem odd that these interactions are this strong even as the Eternal Warrior otherwise acts completely out-of-character, but I suppose that it’s an indication that there is hope for the series.
The art is one of Sword of the Wild’s few redeeming qualities. Trevor Hairsine provides most of the artwork for this volume, although Clayton Crain and Diego Bernard also contribute a few pages. Crain is the biggest name of the three, and his flashback sequence in the second issue is probably the book’s
highlight. Hairsine’s fingerprints are all over the Valiant Universe as he has contributed to nearly every ongoing series at one time or another. His style can best be described as gritty, and it’s a perfect fit for the series. In addition, he’s assisted by Brian Reber, whose color work never ceases to impress me. While this book has its fair share of problems, the artwork is not one of them.
Even if one could separate this version of the Eternal Warrior from the one who has appeared elsewhere in the Valiant universe, this is still a weak initial outing. Too much of Sword of the Wild is set-up, leaving everything to be quickly wrapped up in less than an issue. While the artwork is fairly strong, nearly everything else is lacking. Considering that to date Valiant has been praised for the quality of its output and the cohesiveness of its universe, this represents a massive failure on both counts and, for me, is easily the company’s weakest outing (although I have yet to read any of the Shadowman trades…).