“Realm” #4 will keep you turning pages with an excellent blend of exposition, character insights, and unexpected plot twists as the series continues to build momentum. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
Written and Illustrated by Jeremy Haun and Seth M. Peck
Colored by Nick Filardi
Lettered by Thomas Mauer
The weary adventurers may have found a safe haven hidden away in the savage wastelands of Kansas. Unfortunately, it looks like someone else has found it too….
Ultimately, the core idea for “Realm” is pretty simple: populate a post-technological, near-future dystopia with humans, goblins, orcs, dragons, and other fantastical creatures, throw in a bit black magic, mash it all up, and see what happens. The difference in this case, and the thing that sets “Realm” apart, taking it up to a whole new level, is the ability of co-creators Jeremy Haun and Seth M. Peck to create wonderfully distinct, imaginative, fully realized characters. Even better, Haun and Peck are able to do so both visually and in terms of the narrative elements. The dialogue, for one, is outstanding.
About a third of the way into this issue, a bit of friction ensues as the team debates whether or not to welcome Zach, a mysterious stranger with inexplicable powers, into their party. The futuristically helmeted Rook, dressed in head-to-toe body armor, wants nothing to do with the boy and makes her feelings clear. The easygoing Eli, on the other hand, happily welcomes the kid, apologizing for Rook’s behavior. “Ignore her, Zach,” says Eli. “She’s just crabby because some goblins ate her horse.” Moments later, Eli asks Zach if he’s hungry. “Yeah, if it won’t get you into too much trouble with Boba Fett,” Zach deadpans, referring to Rook.
Simple, humorous exchanges like these not only help root the book in an intriguing, well-conceived world where the presence of traditional fantasy creatures is simultaneously bizarre and unexpected yet almost mundane, it makes the characters and the setting much more relatable. This world is like our own. The Star Wars franchise exists. These people could be our peers. The key difference, of course, is that our fictional counterparts have suddenly found themselves in a land overrun by beings straight out of Middle Earth. It’s like they’ve suddenly stepped into a real life manifestation of the novels, comic books, video games and movies they’ve experienced at arm’s length, only this time it’s for real, with life-or-death consequences. Eli sums it up like this: “Funny how quickly you can get used to some things, and how quickly you can forget others. One day you’re worrying about passing your algebra final and the next thing you know, you’re trying not to get eaten by trolls.”
Visually, as well, everything is drawn in a highly relatable, realistic style. The settings and landscapes feature common late-20th century markers such as nondescript commercial buildings, power lines, a church steeple and metal grain elevators, but there are also massive, armored mastodons with incredible tusks, a seemingly endless array of foul green humanoid creatures and a bearded, axe wielding barbarian known simply as The Beast. But the fantasy creatures are no mere props or dispensable extras purely meant to be vanquished by our heroes and litter the battlefields. They have agency and emotions, inner lives and goals. And they are each carefully and wonderfully rendered with genuine expressions and distinctive body language.
Indeed, the written and visual elements from which the story is built are individually outstanding. At the same time, this is no mere collection of favorite sci-fi and fantasy tropes randomly thrown together. The plot continues to unfold at a deliberate, unhurried pace — punctuated briefly by bloody, dramatic battles — but clearly there are several distinct, unrelated threads slowly coming together to form the central narrative. At this point, it’s still uncertain how everything will mesh and tie together, but different factions are coalescing. Forces are amassing. Battle lines are being drawn. Meanwhile, our main protagonist, Will, still has a job to do, ferrying the two scientists and the rest of the party to distant Kansas City for some still unknown reason.
To be sure, there are many unanswered questions and intriguing possibilities, but so far Haun and Peck are smartly doling out just the right combination of plot points, backstory and character insights to keep us heavily invested and contentedly turning pages. It’s not exactly a whirlwind, no-holds-barred adventure, but it’s not meant to be. “Realm” has the classic look, mood, pace and structure of a long, grandiose high fantasy quest with distinctly post-apocalyptic, dystopian elements thrown in for good measure. Clearly, the creators are in for the long haul. Settle in and enjoy.Continued below
Final verdict 8.2 – The distinct yet disparate threads of this high fantasy/sci-fi mashup continue to weave together in very intriguing ways. That, and Haun and Peck’s masterful command of highly relatable characters and settings, continue to make this unique series stand out.