Much like James Bond in Skyfall, the young-old Michael Rhodes may need to specialize in resurrection as the Rhodes family begins to exorcise their son.
Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Andrei Bressan
Colored by Adriano Lucas
Lettered by Pat Brosseau
Mikey Rhodes battled his way back to Earth, only to lose his family because of his service to the God King Lore. Now, the exorcism of Mikey Rhodes begins!
Comics storytelling is an odd mix of compression and decompression, placing an emphasis on efficient storytelling. Arcs, normally, don’t take place over extended periods of time and if there is a need to create such distance it is handled in a single panel with an annotation. They are decompressed in the roughly 4-week gap between issues. The stories internal time may not be long but the way it is told certainly is. These qualities give comics a certain dream like quality. “Birthright” #26, marking the beginning of the series sixth arc, excels at this brand of storytelling as the series begins the exorcism of Mikey Rhodes.
“Birthright” #26 dream like quality is evident from the issues first words “and then what happened …?” As Inception noted, dreams don’t really begin they just are. They are perpetual “and then X happened” machines … until you wake up. Which is a perfectly fine excuse for the art team of Andrei Bressan and Adriano Lucas to start things with a Lord of the Rings meets “Heavy Metal” spread of God King Lore’s Mordor like dominion with Mikey and his comrades crashing the party. Williamson scripts the moment with an equally metal declaration to the orcs “move or die.” While the sequence eventually turns on itself and pokes holes in this spectacle, there is a certain id pulp factor to Mikey’s rampage that is spectacularly enjoyable. The scale and minute details Bressan fits into the spread gives it a sense of life most spreads tend to lack. It is a depiction of a space that has roughly 5 other unseen huge fantasy battles going on all at the same time, but like a dream we can only comprehend brief flashes of them. A giant minotaur looking creature eviscerates some pikemen in one section. In another a bloody disgusting wyrm chomps on other invaders. For his part, Mikey punches through an orcs skull, rendered with the dark humor of a Mortal Kombat fatality.
In-between the He-Man like bravado tiny cracks begin to appear. At first non-descript flashes, until suddenly, Mikey isn’t just talking to himself, he’s giving himself a pep talk. This is all phantasy, a projection of Mikey’s desires from his sea of unconscious. By the time Grandpa shows up, it isn’t surprise but the confirmation we’d been looking for.
Andrei Bressan’s page design in this sequence helps up the cohere what is a wild series of pages, by generally designing pages to be symmetrical and patterned. The page before Mikey punches through the orc skull, is soft cut into two square panels at the top and bottom sandwiching three full horizontal ones. Another page layout is mirrored several pages later (physically this would be on a page turn.) We go from a page that suddenly blows out the panel distinction and feature just two characters talking, before being re-contained in the most comics recognizable comics page: a patterned 3×3 grid. The layouts of these pages do an effective job of being easily readable, keeping the action moving, and matching the rising instability within the phantastical projection.
Undoubtedly, this sequence has just about everything I could want: big fantasy battles, Freudian symbolism, hypnotic page designs. But it’s what all of these aspects are building towards that has me most interested going forward. The character of Mikey Rhodes is just a few pouches away from being on the cover of “Warchild” #3. Yes, Bressan’s designs and inks are bit more restrained than peak Rob Liefeld, but the core of that cartooned 80s hard bodied masculinity shines through. In exorcising Mikey, Williamson and co. are beginning to pierce the veil of toxicity that enveloped him well before he was put into the service of King Lore. While he looks like Braun Stroman’s barbarian cousin it’s easy to forget he’s in many ways functionally still a child. Everyone calls him “Mikey” for a reason. I’m a 26-year-old man, I let one person call me Mikey at this point. He’s a kid who never got to really grow up and chose to live his life. Killing Lore would let him “end that chapter of my life and start a new one.” He was chained to his destiny the moment he crossed the border and that lack of agency slowly corroded him.Continued below
He became a tool with one purpose, and in the end, he traumatically failed at it. The big brute learning to deal with emotions in non-violent ways isn’t a novel idea, but the twist of it being about recognizing and coping with trauma certainly is. Dealing with his failure is an emotional vulnerability that is emasculating in more ways than more common heterosexualizing ones these sorts of characters deal with. He doesn’t get the cover of it being for a girl, and reminding everyone that he is still totally badass in the end. All he is left with his own failure and mortality.
That is a heavy process, and one the certainly isn’t going to be taken care of in a single issue. But if the “Birthright” creative team continues to explore this process and ideas in this manner, the series could have something special on its hand.
In between the moments of surrealist introspection mixed with fantasy, is an amazingly small human moment. “Birthright” creative team has made a habit of hitting achingly human moments with a dash of melodrama, most recently when Mikey revealed his Nevermind infection to Rya. Like any good genre piece, Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan and Adriano Lucas use the fantasy aesthetic to envelop their story but reveal the humanity.
The brief three panel sequence between Aaron Rya, and the baby, drops these guards. “Can you say ‘Grandpa’?” Aaron wonders walking with the baby. Before Rya interjects with how that maybe getting a little ahead of things. Bressan keeps things simple with just three panels. First, he figures Grandpa and daughter, in the overall structure of the train. Before naturally reframing things in the next panel with Rya inside one of the cars. “Birthright” #25 features some nice spreads and patterned page designs, but these three panels are the issues crispest. Making this brief sequence better is how Williamson uses it to segue back into, and unite the core cast for the conversation Wendy and Sammael were having about his mysterious plan to save Mikey. This is a small moment, not even a full page, but it’s the kind of efficient storytelling that make a comic great. It tells you everything you need to know in just three images.
“Birthright” has been a study in trauma and loss. Rarely do these issues get “happy” moments. If they do it’s girded with ill foreshadowing. None of that structure looms in these panels. It is just a sweet moment between Grand Dad and Daughter, that shows what the Rhodes family has managed to gain something in all of that loss.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Birthright” continues with the start of its most ambitious arc yet