The Necromancer’s Map #1
AndWorld Design (letterer), Sam Beck (artist), Andrea Fort (writer), Michael Christoper Heron (writer), Ellie Wright (colourist)
28 August 2019
Songs for the Dead was a four-issue 2018 mini-series that followed Bethany, a necromancer navigating a world that distrusts those who can raise the dead. Along the way, she meets Elissar, a skilled fighter with a predilection for getting into brawls. The series charted their clashing yet interesting dynamic until the life-changing conclusion of issue #4. The Necromancer’s Map is a continuation of this series, though Vault has stated new readers could just pick up the story without reading Songs for the Dead. It’s very clear from the outset, however, that readers who make this issue their starting point may find themselves struggling to keep up with a story examining the fallout of an equal partnership turning into something decidedly unequal.
Bethany and Elissar developed a fledgling friendship in Songs for the Dead, one that felt natural. In The Necromancer’s Map #1, Bethany and Elissar are still hunting for help in deciphering a map, one that will lead Bethany to a secret group of necromancers. It’s a journey that sees them seeking out the assistance of The Foggard, a society of mages who may be the key to solving this mystery.
Yet after the events of Songs for the Dead #4, things have fallen apart. The relationship between Bethany and Elissar is strained, the latter struggling with feelings of betrayal after Bethany made a decision without Elissar’s consent. Andrea Fort and Michael Christopher Heron capture this dysfunctional companionship well, with scenes of simmering tension that threaten to explode into violence. In fact, when Elissar finally does get to fight, it feels like she is directing all these feelings of anger toward her unfortunate opponent.
Elissar, a character who had relished doing what she wanted, when she wanted, is now dependent upon Bethany. To an extent, Elissar is now also repressing her natural reactions in line with Bethany’s wishes. This resentment is fascinating to explore, as it allows the reader to see the impact of someone else’s “good intentions” when making a decision, without considering the desires of the person affected.
This is why it’s strange to me that Vault would say The Necromancer’s Map is a good starting point. Without the knowledge of what went before, without seeing these two opposite characters develop together, so much emotional depth is missing. The characters’ feelings lack nuance if you haven’t seen how their relationship drastically evolved during Songs for the Dead, or why it’s so tragic that it now seems to be disintegrating.
That being said, I still find Bethany to be a frustrating character. Her decision at the end of Songs for the Dead could have been the beginning of some character development. Yet her enduring naiveté and not considering the consequences of her actions, however well-intentioned, is grating.
This may be an issue personal to me. With the increasingly precarious state of life in general, I have run up against people with “good intentions” for changing the world (think of those who chuck out plastic straws in the name of the environment without considering the disabled people who rely upon them; think Extinction Rebellion, a primarily white group, advocating for its followers to try and get arrested without considering how the police have a history of disproportionately arresting marginalised groups, especially black people). It did not escape my notice that Bethany is a white woman on a crusade and Ellisar, a woman of colour, is the one who paid the price.
The Necromancer’s Map may be the start of Bethany becoming more aware of her actions; towards the end of this issue, she starts to think about whether she uses her powers for selfish reasons. This epiphany is curtailed by Bethany planning to use her abilities to help someone else in mortal danger—but again, it’s based on her wanting to do something, her desire to be good, regardless of the wishes of others. Bethany’s road to self-realisation is looking to be a very rocky one.
Despite my misgivings about Bethany, the story is still engaging and there is a lot to love about the whole comic. AndWorld Design does an efficient job of organising the lettering, and it’s always good to see use of lowercase fonts which can make text more accessible for some readers. Sam Beck draws evocative expressions and body language which adds to the personality of the characters. When action or tension is present in the narrative, angular panels slice into or overlay others to signal their violent intrusion.
Accompanying this are the bold colours of Ellie Wright, vividly capturing a fragile world of magic and death. During important plot or character moments that the creators want to highlight to readers, Beck focuses on setting characters against plain backgrounds, with Wright using either mustard yellow or red to fill out the scene. It’s an effective tool in drawing the reader’s attention and avoiding background details distracting from action scenes that employ it.
By the end of this issue, Fort and Heron throw in a new revelation, one that changes the reader’s perspective on the whole narrative. It’s a startling moment and why I disagree so completely with the idea that this issue is a good place to pick up the story. It doesn’t have as much impact if the reader doesn’t know this sudden revelation is just that. Having consumed Songs of the Dead recently, I instantly wanted to re-read it with this new piece of information in mind to see if I could pick up on any hints.
The Necromancer’s Map #1 is an interesting continuation to the Songs of the Dead series. Fort and Heron manage to pepper in enough intriguing plot points and twists to keep a reader hooked. It also helps that Ellisar is such a compelling character, one filled with rage and few opportunities to release it in her new situation. Subsumed into Bethany’s quest but still trying to remain true to herself, Ellisar struggles with this lack of control. In this way, The Necromancer’s Map #1 is a narrative mirror of the real-life marginalised people caught up in sweeping plans designed to improve the world, but which actively ignore their voices.