Valiant Entertainment's recent "Book of Death" event seemed to foretell the heroic demise of Gilad Anni-Padda, so his return of sorts is a bit of a surprise in Robert Venditti and RaÃºl Allen's "Wrath of the Eternal Warrior" #1, which kicks off a new ongoing series. That is, it's his return to the pages of a comic book, not necessarily to life, as the book opens with Gilad fighting for survival in a hellish kind of afterlife realm. In a parallel storyline, Gilad also seems to be living a fairly idyllic life in a very familiar setting, one that even longtime Valiant fans probably never expected to see again.
It's only the first issue, so Venditti is expectedly coy and doesn't provide too many answers here. While Gilad initially seems consigned to the role of Eternal Warrior somewhere in Hell, the unexpected transition to the story's other setting indicates there's more to Gilad's fate. With this desperate realm's demons speaking in Gollum-like patterns, Venditti's script gives the sequence a slightly comedic feel and the sense it's just another day at the office for Gilad, but Allen's demonic and otherworldly designs combined with Borja Pindado's darker colors convey a far more dire situation. The dichotomy is refreshing, as it gives the realm something other than the usual fire and brimstone-type vibe and doesn't necessarily imply a fate of eternal damnation for an eternal hero.
More refreshing still is Venditti's portrayal of Gilad living happily in a bygone era, albeit one with a bit of underlying discord. In this sequence, Gilad's warrior aspect is evident by mention only; here, he's a loving father and provider and cherishes every moment with his children, even as his wife struggles with his long and frequent absences from home. Allen goes to great extremes to portray these moments, using a series of pages packed with small panels that hone in on the various minutiae of Gilad's home life. Five of the pages are cleverly structured to focus on each of Gilad's senses, as if in an attempt to convince Gilad and readers of the reality of the situation. This extreme focus almost makes readers suspect things actually may not be as they seem.
For those who missed "Book of Death," or at least the final issue, Venditti recounts the conclusion of that storyline and shares with readers what happened to Gilad. It's a visually stunning yet horrific series of images, rendered by Allen in stark black against white contrasts punctuated with greys to enhance the white space, with appropriately applied splashes of red by Pindado. The final sequence bridges the two different settings of the issue, although the exact nature of how they connect remains untold at this point.
"Wrath of the Eternal Warrior" #1 provides a compelling and different look at Gilad Anni-Padda, yet one that's distantly familiar and told from a unique artistic viewpoint. The questions -- and the way in which they're asked -- are plenty compelling, encouraging readers to stick with the series to find out the answers.