Sword of Ages #1
Gabriel Rodriguez (Writer and Artist), Lovern Kindzierski (Colorist), Robbie Robbins (Letterer)
November 29, 2017
The first issue of Sword of Ages reminds of my childhood, partly because it combines, without contradiction or explanation, the mythic register of high fantasy with spacefaring technology, and partly because the protagonist, Avalon, is exactly the kind of heroine I longed for as a girl and so rarely found. Told in eight titled chapters of varying length—or seven and a prelude—it is studded with references to Arthurian legend and set on a planet where at least five humanoid species, and two or more non-humanoid sapiens, live among the ruins of an ancient civilisation.
Gabriel Rodríguez’ visual world-building is richly detailed, with landscapes, clothing, and machines all rewarding a closer look—I am particularly taken with the carvings on the ruins—and it’s clear that there is a lot more to be discovered about the planet. The page layouts tend towards short, wide-angle panels, sometimes inset, with only a handful of square panels in the book. Some of these wide, low panels show off the distances of the open landscape, others frame telling details—eyes, a throat bearing a necklace the previous page tells us is the trophy of a kill. Sometimes the framing is comic; two pairs of feet and lower legs at the top of a page, one bisected by an ambiguous wavering line. In the taller panel just below, the two figures are in the background, standing on a pier, the golden line, no longer ambiguous, a stream of urine splashing into a lake.
The bodies and faces of his characters fall towards the naturalistic end of the scale, more Locke and Key than Little Nemo, and the fight scenes, especially Avalon’s, use angles that I found captivating and dynamic. I admit to being no great fan of action scenes in comics, my eyes tending to skim over them to the speech bubbles until the end of the sequence tells me who won. I did no skimming here. After the relatively static earlier pages, the sparring sequence on page 10 and 11 introduces many of the techniques to be used in framing action: close-ups, smooth shifts of point of view, and an almost three-dimensional feel, as in the third panel, where Lancer’s head and upper body lean out of the panel towards the reader as he ducks Teystan’s sword.
It’s in the five-page battle that takes up the central chapter that these techniques are most spectacularly used, as Avalon lies in wait to ambush the slaver’s caravan. We are eye level with the slavers, and then below them, at a horse’s arched neck, as she leaps on us from above, her foot crossing our eyeline as she kicks towards the slaver’s head. Then three more quick panels—you can feel how little time has passed—leading to a stunning splash page where we see Avalon four times, leaping in what is obviously rapid motion ever closer to the reader and the right-hand side of the page, over a fallen horse and on to kick a second slaver in the head, across and over—headfirst, to club another and then on to the two driving the vehicle, one of whom she disarms when you turn the page. It is stirring stuff, weighty with mass in motion, elastic and gripping with the passage of time.
Not all the narrative techniques work equally well. I’m not entirely convinced by the use of text boxes in different colours to convey different character voices, used exclusively in the Elder Guardians chapter and alternating with speech bubbles in the Prelude and a couple of other chapters. The conceit is clear enough; where the characters are supernatural, the visuals are flashbacks or otherwise set apart from the scene is which the character is speaking, whether by time or distance, we have a box, not bubbles. Still, I found it counter-intuitive, and it interrupted my reading in a way the visual pyrotechnics didn’t. It may be that 22 pages was just not long enough to teach me to read this way, and I’ll get used to it as the story progresses. It may be that the pages were too few for the amount of switching between story strands that the book contained, too, though it helped that three of them come together in the final pages of an issue that’s clearly mostly set-up for a narrative arc to follow.
But these are quibbles, and I was charmed by the book. I like Avalon, her adolescent brashness and spectacular fighting skill, her boastfulness and its wrongfooting in the final panel. I love the entirely practical way she dresses, the way she’s removed that bear-tooth necklace before going into a fight, and her strong, plausible warrior’s body. I sort of resent that I love these things, that comics has trained me to expect women warriors all ass and tits and clothes they strain at, but I love them anyway. I like the mysteriousness of Merlin, the sardonic Gawyn and garrulous Lancer, and I want to know more about them. If I seem to be complaining that 22 pages is too little, it’s because I resent having to wait a month to find out what happens next, and after years of reading monthly comics, that feeling has become all too rare.