“Reyn” #1 by Kel Symons and Nate Stockman begins a Sword and Sorcery series set in the land of Fate. The two main characters, Reyn and Seph, respectively represent the Sword and the Sorcery, with the Sorcery given second billing.
The first page is a classic opener: a man rides into town. Symons uses a narrative style that has a “once upon a time” debriefing on recent history. His prose is too purple with phrases like “pierced the night” and “followers of the light.” New metaphors would be better; these are so old that they have lost much of their power to trigger the senses, even though everyone can recognize them. The dialogue throughout the issue overuses almost-dead figurative language.
The man on the horse is always either hero or villain and, in this case, he’s the main character, Reyn. He’s a man’s man, more “Die Hard” than “James Bond.” As a warden, he’s a combination of medieval knight and Wild West sheriff. He even likes ale. He’s predictable, without any redeeming satirical bite.
In the opening scene, Stockman tilts a bottom panel to reinforce that something is wrong, which tries to make the action more exciting but is instead distracting enough to call too much attention to itself. The farmer’s horse being upset is enough foreshadowing. Stockman gives the battles scenes a lot of attention with mixed results. The transitions are easy to follow, but he focuses too tightly on detail shots in order to make the hero look good, and his bodies are a little stiff.
The conversation between Reyn and the family he rescues is heavy on information dumps. The storytelling is mechanical here, and all the characters behave predictably, particularly the hero-worshipping young son. The daughter didn’t seem add anything to the scene but cleavage. That evening, her offer to Reyn will turn off readers who aren’t into travelling any further down this road of cliched masculinity. This scene is gratuitous, in that it reinforces Reyn’s deeds as so heroic and manly that a father will use his daughter to get him to stick around rather than adding suspense about whether Reyn would stay or go, in the style of Aeneas and Dido. The next page has Reyn moving on, though, so it is obvious that the daughter’s offer was solely meant to reinforce Reyn’s virility.
Seph is introduced halfway through the issue, and she feels like a breath of fresh air since Reyn needs a foil. Unfortunately, she’s also a stereotype from head to toe, especially since she’s a healer and a magic-handler. These two roles are traditionally allocated to women in fantasy because they allow the practitioners to stay dainty and clean, on or off the battlefield. Seph can at least fight with her magic but, conveniently, Stockman makes her appearance less sexualized. The team member/concubine divide is the Sword and Sorcery subgenre’s version of the virgin/whore complex, and it’s every bit as reductive and stale.
The villains in “Reyn” #1 are likewise unimaginatively designed. The knight-like posse is the police arm of a tyrannical feudal structure, possibly in combination with a corrupted organized religion. They’re two-dimensional and likely to stay that way. Stockman adheres to the familiar horror technique of taking a non-mammalian animal and enlarging it. The first antagonist Reyn faces looks like a giant insect, and his more intelligent, future foes look like big amphibians.
The reader knows who to like and who to dislike through all the well-worn visual and verbal shorthand. It’s efficient, but there are no surprises here, to the point that it’s a liability for the story. Every single character in “Reyn” #1 has been endlessly rehashed in the fantasy genre already, and the creative team hasn’t added anything new. The world of Fate is built up adequately, but it is also derivative. In the end, the lack of originality in setting, character and dialogue makes “Reyn” feel like old news even though it’s a debut.