Alliances begin to crystallize in the penultimate chapter to Kurt Busiek's first "The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw" story arc. Joined by artist Benjamin Dewey, colorist Jordie Bellaire and letterers John G. Roshell and Albert Deschesne, Busiek makes "The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw" #5 a transitional chapter but a dynamic and riveting one nonetheless.
One of my favorite moments in each issue of "The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw" is opening the book to find Dewey's double-page masterpiece for that installment. This issue's "Shadows in the Heart of Day" does not disappoint. Tagged with an unsettling tale of Hrotakh, the leader of the bat-folk, this one image alone could occupy my brain for a week. Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of time, but I do have the luxury of coming back to that image or simply waiting to see what Dewey graces us with in the next issue.
That's only two pages of the issue, though, as Busiek writes plenty of intrigue, machinations and suspense into these twenty pages. Learoyd is getting the lay of the land, sizing up alliances and serving as the mysterious point of view character for the readers. Gharta and Affa remain the subject of Sandorst's power grab, and Lady Goodfoot proves to be none too trustworthy. This easily could have been an issue filled completely by one of those movements, but Busiek is too invested in this comic and too appreciative of his readers.
The most exciting part of all of this is that the cast in "The Autumnlands" is just a sliver of the population of their world. Busiek hints of things beyond the setting in this arc, but then he delivers a story so gripping that readers cannot possibly think about not reading more of Dusty and the rest of this cast.
With the concluding chapter of this first arc up next, Dewey brings plenty of great visuals to the series. There are plenty of characters milling through the panels of this story, and Sandorst once more unleashes some magic. Couple that with Dewey's ability to give every species the most expressive postures and facial expressions and this comic is great to look at.
Except Dewey doesn't stop there. He draws up a couple panels with silhouettes carrying the story and, in other panels, chooses the most interesting, impactful crops to drive the emotion. Learoyd is still the lynchpin of this tale, but Goodfoot gets a fine share of the story to showcase her wiliness, which comes through in Busiek's dialogue almost as thoroughly as in her body language. When facing Seven-Scars, Dewey reminds readers of scale between characters and, throughout the issue, the wreckage of the fallen city sits in the background, atmospherically faded through colorist Jordie Bellaire's handicraft.
Bellaire and the lettering/design team of J.G. Roshell and Albert Deschesne also contribute to "The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw" and there is simply no denying this comic book is a complete team effort. Bellaire makes Learoyd's technical eyewear enviable and the lettering crew pours plenty of inflection and desperation into Gharta's frustrated pleas for help from the Great Champion.
"The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw" #5 is as complete and compelling a transitional tale as I can recall seeing in comics in my time reviewing for CBR. Given that the creative team is essentially an all-star lineup, I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise, but it never ceases to be enjoyable. Now that the conflict is set, I cannot wait to see what Busiek, Dewey, Bellaire, Roshell and Deschesne do once Seven-Scars leads his people into battle.