In “Dawn the Swordmaster’s Daughter and Other Stories,” Joseph Michael Linsner returns to his creator-owned series with three new short stories based in folktale and focused on Dawn, the goddess of rebirth, and her lover Darrian Ashoka. Linsner’s storytelling shines in “The Swordmaster’s Daughter,” a retelling of a Samurai legend; “Samsara,” a Sufi folktale, shows his mastery of short form with a brief but riveting two page story. However, “The White Phoenix,” ripped from “The Bhagavad Gita,” feels a little out-of-place in this collection, although it does prompt an interesting discussion on war. Overall, the issue provides a solid, enjoyable blend of sci-fi and fantasy, oriented towards fans of Linsner’s previous works.
In the first two stories, Linsner’s narration comes across easily and conversationally, largely due to his character work. Although the stories take place in a post-apocalyptic future, the characters feel familiar and relatable through their established traits, such as the Swordmaster’s care for his daughter and Darrian’s gullibility — instances that are woven naturally into the plotlines. The storytelling is simple and at times repetitious, in the way that folktales usually are, which eases the reader into a world whose existence seems much more complex. Going this route, Linsner gets his ideas across in a firm but fun way.
Compared to the first two stories, “The White Phoenix” falters in its narration. The dialogue between Darrian and Dawn feels forced as each struggles to find words for heavily philosophical ideas. Additionally, while the first two stories can stand alone, this one seems heavily tied to an existing plotline, which creates a disorienting and alienating effect. Had the author included a page at the beginning of the issue that summarized the universe for context, “The White Phoenix” may have stood on its own; however, as it stands, this story pales in comparison to the rest of the issue.
Linsner’s art is easily the most enjoyable aspect of the issue. He brought each character to life through their subtle differences, from their body type to facial features and expressions — you can even see the twinkle in their eyes! His strength lies in the details; little things, like the clocks and watches that were part of the Death god’s attire, really asserted the uniqueness of his characters. Likewise, he included a few full page spreads rife with symbolic images, including one particularly beautiful depiction of war and age, that really set the tone of his stories. The only drawback to Linsner’s style is his unfortunate wardrobe choices. His characters seem stuck in the post-apocalyptic 1980s: tight jeans, backwards caps, and metal breastplates look to be all the rage in Linsner’s world. However, this is the only convention that ultimately doesn’t translate well.
After a brief absence from comics, Dawn and Darrian find a strong return in “Dawn the Swordmaster’s Daughter and Other Stories.” Linsner lays solid groundwork in this issue for Dawn’s upcoming book, released next year. This issue in particular doesn’t immediately appeal to new readers, as the stories forge ahead without explaining much about the universe. Fans of the characters, however, will be delighted with these inventive retellings.