Take the Sword and Sorcery genre, mix in some Arthurian lore, add in a dash of Superman’s origin, a pinch of The Jungle Book, and shake it all up with a sci-fi adventure tale and you have Gabriel Rodriguez’s debut issue of “Sword of Ages.” It’s a wild ride but is it worth checking out? Read on and beware, some spoilers will be unearthed.
Written and Illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
Colored by Lovern Kindzierski
Lettered by Robbie Robbins
A mythic origin story you never expected to see! This winter, the Sword will be drawn for the first time ever, courtesy of writer/artist/Locke & Key co-creator Gabriel Rodriguez in a five-issue miniseries adventure of epic proportions! A young woman will become the first wielder of the most famous sacred weapon of all time to champion for her world’s survival, inspiring a legion of heroes to join her struggle against a merciless alien force. The line between science fiction and magic might get fuzzy, but the line between heroes and villains will be drawn in blood.
“Sword of Ages” is a strange beast. On the one hand, it has all the hallmarks of a traditional sword and sorcery adventure story, complete with a rag-tag gang of adventurers who don’t know each other and have been gathered by a mysterious outside force (Dungeon Master Rodriguez) and on the other, it’s a Superman meets Jungle Book on a fantasy futuristic planet story.
Strange and wildly creative doesn’t even begin to come close to describing the feeling that reading this comic gives off. It is a densely packed debt issue in which Rodriguez has to acclimate us to a foreign world, introduce us to these new characters, set up the stakes for them as well as navigate the minefield that is merging various genre tropes without having it feel like a mess and, thankfully, he manages to accomplish most of this well.
A lot of that has to do with Rodriguez’s artistic talent. The level of detail and control over his visual storytelling is staggering. Almost every panel features highly detailed backgrounds, immersing us in this other world and making it feel full and real. Not only is this apparent in the landscape but also the ways in which the characters move throughout the panels. He considers every character and their motion, each having independent goals and motives so that as a scene plays out, no one feel static.
Take ‘The Guardian of the Sacred Lake,’ one of the sections the book is divided up into. So much happens here that to fully summarize would take up too much time but suffice it to say that this is where Avalon arrives and the party fully comes together. It would have been easy to just have the two, purple alien looking creatures just leave the page at the start of the section and then reappear later with the Guardian of the Lake but Rodriguez doesn’t do that.
He breaks down their journey, starting in the first panel by showing Drootyl prepping the canoe while Gawyn is pissing off the pier, moving to the next, which pulls out to show what all the adventurers are doing and then, in the far background, showing the twins canoeing away so that on the next page, we can see them return, riding on the back of some sea-creature, with the adventurers’ conversation continuing in the distance. All of this wasn’t necessary, he could have just as easily used closer panels that showed one or the other event but Rodriguez chose to use these wide-shots and to have these panels accomplish multiple tasks.
This style and level of detail is reminiscent of Moebius’ work and that of other European comics, even though it isn’t the same page dimensions. It is so crisp and clear and we have a sense of place with each turn of the page so that, were most of the words to be removed, much of the story would still be understandable just from his art alone. Many of the nuances and lore might be lost, true, but the underlying emotions and events would not.
I could go on and on about the ways in which Rodriguez constructs the panel layouts as well as the action within the pages and I probably will break down at least one more example later but for now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the story itself.Continued below
You’ll notice that I’ve been having a tough time summarizing the events of these scenes and that’s because not only is the narrative itself dense but it is, unfortunately, also kind of confusing, especially the opening scenes. Much of that has to do with the fact that this is a set-up issue for the world as well as our main character, Avalon. The story leans heavily upon the tropes of the sword and sorcery genre, namely those of cycle and a hero arriving to break the cycle, but who they’re doing the breaking from isn’t clear. Neither is the first section of the comic, which is the main characters parents crash landing (sort of) on the planet and give her up to sentient, intelligent alien sabretooth tigers, any clearer in the why of what they’re doing.
The narration, while important, isn’t easy to follow, content wise, and leaves me more confused than if I were to just follow Rodriguez’s art and guess on the specifics. At the moment, the details in the story are just there as early exposure to information that will become important later on and, while that’s fine, front loading it could get people to pause their read and not want to wade through the weeds of the narrative. However, once Rodriguez stops drawing so heavily upon the tropes themselves, the narrative begins to shore itself up and the characters begin to solidify.
Before I close, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Kindzierski’s coloring work, which truly helps to elevate Rodriguez’s art and to make the world feel vibrant and varied. The comic opens with the saturated blues and reds and purples of space and then the deep oranges of the planet at sunset before slowly washing out the colors so that they appeared more realistic while retaining an otherworldliness to them. I think much of the comic, such as the trance scene, stuck with me because of the combination of Rodriguez’s art and Kindzierski’s coloring.
To those who are not a fan of sword and sorcery, this comic may lose you on story but it more than makes up for it in its visual clarity and intriguing ideas. I cannot wait to find out where this story heads next.
Final Verdict: 8.0. A visually stunning work that is held back by some impenetrable narration, although not enough to bar a firm recommendation.