By Robert Venditti, Raúl Allén, Patricia Martín, David Astruga, and Borja Pindado
With a furor of a thousand insatiable demonic beasts, Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #1 is a stunning and dazzling debut. Roaring directly out of the conclusion to Book of Death #4, Venditti, Allén, Martín and co. have created something akin to classical Greek myth in scope with surprising depth and careful tragedy. As overused and hollow as the word “epic” has become in this internet age, the epithet is beyond apt for this rich re-introduction to Valiant’s premier combatant. The product of seamless collaboration, it’s a visual joy and a tonally precise new beginning rife with earnest character work and boundless potential. Love. Loss. Duty. Honor. Wrath. Raise your axe and dive in head first and hungry, my friends, and this issue will leave you more than sated.
Without spoiling the conclusion to Book of Death, let’s just say that this is a brand new landscape and a radically different challenge for Gilad that Venditti and Allén have unleashed. It’s instantly captivating right from page one and proceeds to draw you in further not by hurling a gore-filled menagerie at you, but rather by smartly and surprisingly taking…its…time. It doesn’t just establish mood, it builds and cultivates mood. It doesn’t introduce settings and characters, it explores them. Venditti’s script is as sharp as Gilad’s numerous instruments of death and builds the new status quo in such a manner so as to heighten the tragedy. Imagine if Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was, you know, actually good; this is still a million times better. With a title that includes both the words “wrath” and “warrior” it’s certainly a tad unexpected to see so much focus on fleshing out the man behind the scars, but it is perfectly done. Venditti explores what it means to be not only the chosen protector of the Geomancer lineage, but what toll that takes on the man himself and the effects on those around him. It’s clear Gilad is an honorable man whose heart weighs heavy, but its the damage inflicted on those he cares about that tears at him more than any beastly foe. There’s a wonderful balance at play throughout with the quieter, smaller scale, emotionally resonant work taking place within a framework that is not merely foreboding, but inescapable. The manner in which the idea of “home” is explored via the five senses is brilliant and effective craftsmanship that ensconces the reader inside the tragic fate of Gilad. Perhaps what Venditti does best however, is demonstrating that he knows when to get out-of-the-way and let the art do all the talking necessary.
Look, we all knew Raúl Allén was good, but the work on display in Wrath is some next-level business that blows away what we’ve seen thus far. It’s breathtaking in its solemnity; a clean, efficient style paired with a striking palette and a perfect sense of pacing. The vast splashes are stunning in the horror they depict and the uneasy colors that enliven them, but its the sequences of unbridled humanity that hit hardest. Like fluttering through a scrapbook of memories taken by a camera that may quite literally steal your soul, Allén and Patricia Martín’s layouts are Mondrian in construction, but revel in transitioning and transposing single moments in scattered fragments. Those pages highlighting the five senses are remarkably effective in casting aside the traditional sequential storytelling in favor of creating a sense of timelessness. Everything is frozen in those ever important moments of understanding what it is to be human, what it is to be exactly where you want to be and all the little things that make up that irreplaceable second in time. Yes, that sounds maudlin, but it is genuinely striking.
Nothing else looks like what Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín (with art assistant David Astruga and additional colors from Borja Pindado) have cooked up here. It’s deceptively simple at first glance, but it’s densely layered. Flat silhouettes dance alongside textured ghouls and because of the economy of line, the colors are largely responsible for adding depth precisely and subtlety as necessary. My word, do they accomplish that. The whole issue is a clinic in restraint and while the palette is obviously eye-popping, its application is what creates the ethereal aesthetic of this otherworldly locale inhabited by delicate humans with softly shaded tones and craggy, amphibious beasts. The more textured foreground characters only enhance the intentionally subdued and two-dimensional shaded backdrops that uneasily linger in their ghostly, saturated teal glory. The most dramatic instance of both colors and inks may be when Gilad recounts the events of Book of Death and the inks disappear entirely to give way to form as created solely by a four color palette of silhouettes. It’s haunting and the composition at work, the way in which it moves your eye and narrow its vision as it progresses is yet another example of the artistic nuance on display. Much like the thematic undercurrent of the story itself, the art is striking, bold, and almost inexplicably soft all at once.
Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #1 firmly establishes itself as the best first issue to come out of Valiant yet. This is not the bloodlust-fueled ferocity the title implies, it’s deeper and far more intricate than that. With an eye towards a neoclassic sense of wonder and tragedy, it’s a humbling and human affair awash in haunting beauty. Prepare yourself to be surprised by the approach and the execution because this series has set itself up as something to get lost in for what will feel like a very welcomed eternity.
On Sale November 18th!