by Andrew McLean and Mike Spicer
After 3 bumper-sized, action-packed issues, Norgul and Agatha have reached The Black Bog and are ready to lop the head of the cause of all evil they have faced thus far… Barra himself…
Given the consistent level of quality brought to Head Lopper across the board, this review is (in many ways) a review of the entire, exemplary mini-series: One of the best comics of the year by a mile. In a time when most ongoings take 400 issues to churn out half a story, and pump out issues with seemingly no sense of deadline, to reward such a title to a quarterly adventure comic may seem bold. Yet Head Lopper’s somewhat “Old fashioned-ness” somehow makes it the freshest thing on the rack.
Lately comics are becoming overwritten, celebrating writers over artists, letting visuals drown under dialogue- Head Lopper never forgets to be aesthetically driven. There are whole passages with little to no dialogue. Yet the action, and agency of characters, is clear and precise thanks to the superlative quality of the art on show. Much like Bruce Timm, Mike Mignola or James Stokoe, Andrew McLean uses a cartoonish style to capture an airy sense of adventure a more photo realistic style never could. Its sharp lines and bold, blocky colours invoke a look reminiscent of animations such as Samurai Jack which makes the story pop from the page.
For a creator so driven by visuals, its a testament to his status as an all-rounder that McLean is such a deft hand at storytelling: with the ability to capture comedic pacing like Jeff Smith (Bone, Rasl) combined with a knack to develop characters via action (akin to Jack Kirby). With Head Lopper as a launch pad, should he keep it up, McLean seems set to cement himself as the next all-round creator of original characters, aka: The Will Eisner model.
It feels that in a comic this visually arresting and rich, it must surely falter on story. Yet Head Lopper #4 is a rewarding payoff to 3 issues of buildup. The dramatic tension/comedic back and forth between Norgul and Agatha has been simmering with a delightful rhythm so well pronounced you can almost hear them bouncing off each other as if they were Abbot and Costello. Every time it veers into Tolkien-esque loftiness of “ma’lords, ma’ladies and defenders of realms and kingdoms” it punctuates its own grandeur with a razor sharp gag. Yet McLean knows the danger of too much brevity removing all stakes, and similar knows when not to make a joke- and to let the drama of the story carry. To let it have weight. With the tight character work of an audio play, brought to life by bold artwork, Head Lopper #4 is a masterclass in the synergy between different forms to create an incredible. Not an inch of this comic hasn’t been thought about. Even the colour scheme of the cover is green & block to reflect The Block Bog and Barra. I wouldn’t be surprised if McLean even personally chosen the stables that were used for binding.
If this relatively small (in terms of distribution) yet big (in terms of quality) miniseries has passed you by, pick up the trade when it arrives in October 2016. Head Lopper is a visually arresting, perfectly paced and devilishly funny epic of aesthetic & narrative scope, brought to life with the richest characters in comics in years.