Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey’s “Tooth and Claw” continued this week with a shift in name — and “The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw” #2 is a hyper-violent sequel to the beautifully imagined first issue. Though my personal preference is for worldbuilding rather than gore-splattering, the artistry in this issue is just as undeniable as in the last. The linework, the colors, the lettering, the script — they all add up to a shockingly good story in a remarkably creative world. “The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw” continues to impress.
Issue #2 introduces the “twist” behind the Great Champion mythology, and it’s a bold one on Busiek’s part. I won’t spoil, but I’m certainly curious to see how this revelation will interact with all the worldbuilding that the team has done so far. They’ve introduced a host of class, species and cultural tensions, and this new element seems like it might overwhelm those existing problems. That could be a shame.
Plotwise, though, this issue is tighter and speedier than the last, with each scene having a clear purpose and effect on the plot. It’s also much gorier, at times gratuitously so, but artist Benjamin Dewey imbues the fight scenes with fury and hustle. Still, since I so enjoyed the more cerebral, sociopolitical tone of the first issue, I was disappointed — but undeniably riveted.
Much of that credit goes to Dewey, whose inventive character designs continue to delight me. I keep discovering more animals in the background of crowded scenes, more ornate colors or cool hoods, more clever ways to make giraffes and lizards look like medieval burghers. This second issue also displays his eye for movement and action. The staggering violence of the Great Champion is conveyed with an efficiency that makes his murders look all the more ruthless. So many kills are confined to a single panel, with no visuals of the Champion’s preparation or decision-making. As a result, it feels like there is no hesitation before he decapitates or impales a foe.
Colorist Jordie Bellaire is just unbelievable. She juggles a variety of moods here, from the wizards’ debates to the egg’s explosion, from a blood-soaked battle to a bat colony. Much of what I like in issue #2 is similar to the first issue. When the animals stand in a crowd, they’re like a scatter plot of popping colors, pulling my eye to all of Dewey’s creativity. It’s a textbook example of how coloring can draw out the best of the linework.
Bellaire also excels in the huge fight scene. She coats the Champion in scarlet, scarlet blood — an aggressive move, but it does effectively transform him from a mythical hero to a real-life horror without any exposition. She also sets the brutal battle between the Champion and the lesser ones against a teal-indigo background that somehow brings everything to the fore while still feeling like twilight.
John Roshell and Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft handle the various text treatments, as well as the unconventional design elements, with style and thought. The font they’ve chosen for the dialogue feels high fantasy, but precise and cultivated. Like many fantasy fonts, it’s mean to look written by hand — by a very neat, monkish, almost calligraphic hand. With a script that’s full of spats over “Bellamo’s Third Supplication” and calls for “The Scrolls of Perceptors,” “Tooth and Claw” needs a font that looks at home in scholarly debates about magic — and that’s what Roshell and Betancourt have achieved.
Even the excerpts of the world’s mythology are meticulously put together. They’re elaborately styled like a mix of ’80s sword-and-sorcery stories and illustrated children’s Bibles — a whole lot of thought and design work for only two pages.
Second issues are always tough, and “The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw” #2 is one of the best second issues I’ve read recently. Gorgeous, imaginative and only $2.99, it’s easily one of the best deals around.