Marian Churchland and Brandon Graham have been talking about this series since last year, and from all the images they’ve teased, the stories and characters they’ve promised, and the artists they’ve announced, we’ve gotten the sense that ‘8House” will be something special. Their ambitions are high, their aesthetic is fascinating, and it’s difficult not to be caught up in this new, weird world they’re creating.
Written by Brandon Graham
Illustrated by Marian Churchland
A lady of the blood house has had her mind trapped in a strange alien root-body. She’s hiding on the outskirts of her kingdom until she learns that the alien monster pretending to be her has returned.
The first issue of a shared fantasy universe. Sharp genderqueer knights, blood magic, music, dancing, and a goose.
If nothing else, “8House: Arclight” #1 is an intriguing book. With its cryptic tone, ambiguous characters, and earthy atmosphere, the story is already completely engrossing, offering up numerous alleyways and avenues you can’t wait to explore. For all the interesting elements being established, there’s not a lot we know at the end of this issue. After everything’s unfolded, you get the feeling that writer Brandon Graham and artist Marian Churchland have mostly given us a lot of answers to questions we don’t know to ask yet.
“Arclight” kicks of the shared fantasy universe, “8House,” which Graham and Churchland have been teasing for what like eons. Originally brainstormed as a revamping of the Top Cow Universe, it eventually abandoned that and evolved into something else, something far richer and far more interesting (think how a failed pitch for Kamandi led Paul Pope to create the sublime “Battling Boy”): this is book that simultaneously and actively embraces and rejects pretty much every fantasy trope. It centers around a knight, Sir Arclight, who’s sworn to protect their lady, Lady (who is like a walking bundle of sticks), as they explore the borders around their city, transferring life from one body to another.
What we have from the story owes a lot more to the New Weird of China Mieville or the desolate eeriness of Jeff VanderMeer than to your prototypical Euro-centric Tolkien stuff. Yes, there are massive cities, blood magic rituals, weird characters, et cetera, but Churchland and Graham don’t use any of them in expected ways. They have traded in epicness for elegance, have gone for mood and tone over violent confrontations, have tried to evoke rather than bombard us with information, and all this helps make this book its own experience.
This is very much a comic driven by the artwork. Words, for the most part, are kept minimal, mostly used to tell us where a particular scene takes place. But Churchland’s artwork sings. Her panels are huge, often spilling off the side of the page, and this allows the environments to breathe. Even if she’s just hinting at a background through a shaded gradient, it always feels like there’s more going on. When she goes for a highly detailed landscape (like our first view of the city, a double-page spread in the direct center of the book), she conjures a sense of awe. The costumes are gorgeously rendered and almost steal the show. Her work is delivered mostly through pencil and markers, and that softness in the line and on the page makes this story feel stranger and more mysterious.
“Arclight,” though, is unapologetic about being the opening chapter of a larger narrative. Scenes feel more like vignettes in the issue, although they’ll inevitably garner more meaning as “8House” gets further underway. Because the book teases so much, because it’s taking the time to move its characters into place, I didn’t feel like it ever fell into a strong enough rhythm to develop much tension. Graham and Churchland offer more than plenty to grab your attention, and establish more than enough mystery to make you want to come back to this world, yet the issue never truly settles into a groove. I think it’s a combination of being a first chapter, of Graham and Churchland’s long-form storytelling sensibilities, and the necessity of establishing a brand new enormous universe. It’s a tall order for a narrative that relies so much on visuals, but like Graham’s “Prophet” before it or his own “King City” and “Multiple Warheads,” I’m sure it will eventually find its tension.Continued below
“8House: Archlight” #1 exists in its own weird world. It’s a book that will evolve and unfold rather than explode out with information. Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland only offer us a tiny glimpse of a tiny portion of this enormous world, but it’s immersive and intriguing and you can’t wait to return to explore even more.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – Though it’s start is practically glacial, you can feel this book is going to be something special.