The most spectacular thing about “Tooth & Claw” #1 is not the fact that this new series from writer Kurt Busiek, artist Benjamin Dewey, colorist Jordie Bellaire and Comicraft on letters delivers yet another breakout hit for Image Comics. No, the most impressive component of this comic book is that these talented comic book professionals bring readers forty-four pages of amazing visuals and world-constructing detail for less than three bucks. No matter how you measure value in a comic — lots of dialog, quantity of pages, heavily detailed art, sprawling cast, spectacular coloring and dazzling coloring effects — there is not a better value than “Tooth & Claw” #1. In addition to packing the pages full of everything mentioned above, this stunning creative crew gives readers an incredibly approachable introduction to a world that is already bustling with life.
Busiek opens the story by introducing readers to Dunstan, an English bull terrier, son to his town’s trade-master. As the convergence of leaders of the Seventeen Cities Above the Plain come together in Dunstan’s hometown of Keneil, Busiek presents the daily life of a trader from the skies descending to the Plain. Dunstan’s youthful naivete opens the story up for Busiek to masterfully explain this world to readers without burying them in expository comments and captions. The story remains mobile, the characters begin to assume definition and personalities and bits of society are slowly constructed in front of the readership.
From there, Busiek allows his fellow comic book magicians Dewey, Bellaire and John Roshell and Jimmy Betancourt from Comicraft to impress the readers and perform visual wonders panel after panel, page after page. These four creators merge seamlessly, each bringing their absolute best and opening up their toolboxes a little farther to try out some new applications. Moving through meticulously detailed worlds, the denizens of Keneil and their visitors are surrounded by wicker settings and crafts. Cloaked in lavish attire that Bellaire appoints with texture through her color work, these characters invite the reader into the story, imploring that readers join them to learn more about Keneil firsthand.
The characters themselves are mind-bogglingly gorgeously rendered. Many artists would be challenged to achieve such accurate intricacies alone, but Dewey takes it all much farther, giving each of these characters personality and finding the right way to express emotions on eagles, warthogs, dogs and owls. The cast is not limited to just a handful of anthropomorphic animals as Dewey shows no limits to the layering in of additional background characters. Readers will easily be able to lose themselves studying backgrounds and details of every panel, identifying every represented species along the way. Dewey presents a wild array of diversity in these characters, making the inhabitants of Keneil a fine analogy for humankind. Bellaire keeps in lock-step with Dewey, resisting the urge to paint these characters in cartoony shades, choosing instead to be as true to their appearance as Dewey is, all the while adding depth and dimension through sublime shades applied to backgrounds. The central force driving this story is a tale about the use and cost of magic and Bellaire proves herself to be the foremost authority on coloring magic with her work in “Tooth & Claw” #1.
Roshell and Betancourt test out some innovations of their own. With magic comes a wider array of sound effects, which the lettering duo works into the art and color surrounding those effects. It might be possible that Dewey is adding those effects in, but again, that speaks to the dynamic collaboration this creative crew shares. The standard conversational word balloons have an indie comic appearance, but serve quite nicely to separate these characters from readers, adding a shroud of alien mystery to this world.
Gharta the Seeker graces the cover, and serves to be the fulcrum for “Tooth & Claw” #1 as the caste system and way of life present in the Seventeen Cities is threatened. The past is tapped in a manner that unleashes destruction and pushes amazing visuals to each page and every panel. Busiek, Dewey, Bellaire, Roshell and Betancourt furnish readers with well-developed details of this strange, exciting new world and then leave us clamoring for more, as readers now have to wait to discover the appearance of the Great Champion. “Tooth & Claw” #1 is a tale of the loss of magic and the quest to regain it as society proves to be its own worst enemy in this quest.
My biggest nit to pick here is that the back cover bills this as “48 pages, no ads,” but the true “page” count is forty-four, since the front, back and interior covers are covers that don’t carry the story, not pages. That, however, is easily overlooked, given the fact that the issue is still left with two-hundred-twenty percent of the page count of a standard $2.99 comic book. Incredibly, each panel is worth the cover price all by itself, but combined this is a comic book that simply can not be missed.