Worldbuilding is hard. You need to establish rules, factions, conflicts, and complicated storytelling devices. If you’re not careful, what can be an exciting epic and powerful story can quickly be overwhelmed with a feeling that you aren’t exploring a strange new world but rather doing homework for a world that isn’t your own. But if done right, successful worldbuilding excites you for the adventure ahead. It’s all about HOW you tackle this tall task, not even necessarily what the worldbuilding looks like. In “Edenwood” #1, Tony S. Daniel effortlessly introduces you to his world and adventure by focusing on the most important thing first: characters to care about.
Written by Tony S. Daniel
Illustrated by Tony S. Daniel
Colored by Jay David Ramos
Lettered by Nathan Kempf
An eons-long series of multiverse wars between demons and witches has found Earth as its latest and final battleground. The battle pits NECRONEMA, the ever-expanding demonic land that supplanted the Midwest twenty years ago, against EDENWOOD, the witchcraft-controlled land that acts as a barrier against the war zone and the rest of the U.S. RION, a young DEMON HUNTER, is thrust into the role of hero and leader after defeating a magical demon called a GATHER, a transient demon with the power to cross any barrier or dimension. Summoned by the WITCH WAR COUNCIL, Rion must assemble an elite team of DEMON HUNTERS tasked with annihilating a list of targets within the demon-controlled lands. The men and women he selects happen to be the most famous and revered demon hunters of all time, dating back to the 1700s.
There’s quite a bit of exhibition in “Edenwood” #1; it’s a dense premier issue, and usually, that isn’t a great sign. While plenty of contemporary comics struggle to find a compelling monthly pacing, Tony S. Daniel creates a captivating world and gets you invested quickly. As you’re reading the premier issue, there are plenty of moments that feel like Daniel looked to manga and anime for inspiration while developing his multidimensional epic. There’s something about the quick, economic worldbuilding that immediately sets the stakes and gets you engaged. This is primarily thanks to Daniel’s strong cast of characters, a group of teens exploring the magical lake near the edge of the Edenwood. In a few quick pages, you learn quite a bit about their world because they’re talking like teens. Daniel also does an incredible job taking advantage of some of the tricks of the comic medium to help with his world-building. Instead of having the characters belabor the point about the existence of a demon-fighting academy or the global famine presumably created by the magical war at their border, narration boxes do a lot of the heavy lifting. Again, this feels similar to watching an anime that, in the text or thanks to a fan-submitted translation, will give you the occasional point of context for a joke or reference. It helps make the world feel lived in, like we are casual observers of a conversation instead of an audience that needs its hand held at every turn.
Even when the narration threatens to dip into “too much telling, not enough showing,” Daniel finds a way to keep the strong voice of his teen protagonist present, making it light and punchy. It even adds a good degree of skepticism about the world at large, as Elias and Rion occasionally comment to show that the world isn’t entirely as black and white as these conflicts can sometimes be in similar stories. “Edenwood” #1 has its characters question supposedly known information. Like teens of any good stories, they are quick to call out propaganda and question authority. Rion’s first encounter with Bastille immediately shows that while he’s a bit of a loner and a rebel, he does care and doesn’t like innocent people getting hurt. It quickly sets up a likable character and gets you invested quickly. It also helps that the issue is absolutely gorgeous.
Similar to its effortless worldbuilding, “Edenwood” #1 feels similarly inspired by anime in the army’s aesthetics and the demons’ design. Still, it’s most apparent in the visuals of the demon killer armor. It looks somewhere between Samurai and Count Dracula, a place where Dark Souls and Bloodborne,, which helps makes the interior of the Edenwood feel like the dark fantasy that inspired Daniel’s art direction. What helps make the series eerie is watching the mundane elements of our world, tanks, guns, and other post-apocalyptic science fiction elements interact with demonic possessions and dark magic. It’s the kind of world you are excited to learn more about, seeing how these disparate elements interact and impact one another.
Daniel’s also has an incredible control, creating tense horror combat, vividly brought to life by Jay David Ramos. Overall, the color scheme of “Edenwood” #1 is rather dull. While outside, the magical forest has the occasional pop of color and beautiful nature. Past the veil, it’s a bleak grey world of snow and ice. That makes elements like Bastille’s armor pop in the snow-laden fields of combat, but it’s especially impressive when the demons rear their ugly heads. Anytime we enter combat, the panels explode with disgusting red tendrils and skeletal horrors that remind you of the stakes. Plus, anytime you have demons, it gives the letterer a chance to shine. Nathan Kempf takes full advantage of the opportunity to create some genuinely unsettling dialogue that compliments the bloody red of the action sequences. Overall, it’s an impressive use of the medium and one that makes you excited to return. Plus, it’s always fun when comics pay homage to films, and having a credit sequence about halfway through the issue is equally clever and jarring, establishing a time skip and resetting the status quo. It’s an effective way of setting up future issues and adventures, learning how Rion became a legendary hunter and what happened to his friends (and foes) along the way. It’s an incredibly effective first issue and one that sets up a series I look forward to visiting again.
Final Verdict: 9.0 – If you’re looking for a visually stunning dark fantasy, “Edenwood” #1 is the book for you!