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The Autumnlands, Vol. 1: Tooth and Claw Paperback – July, 2015
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The Autumnlands takes place in a land filled with sentient, humanoid animals (key characters include a terrier, a warthog, an owl, a coyote, and a bison), whose aristocracy wield magic and live in a confederation of floating cities. But magic is declining, and a cabal of magic users in the Seventeen Cities are desperate to bring the magic back. They resolve to reach back through time to grab the Champion who opened the gates of magic. It shouldn’t be much of a spoiler to admit that the “champion” is a human. And in fact, as strange as the world of The Autumnlands seems, that champion appears to be a soldier from our world, sometime in the future. In fact, he has scifi impants, giving the whole thing a sword and planet feel.
Bringing him back crashes one of the Seventeen Cities to the ground and things start to get really messy. Depleted magic means help isn’t on the way anytime soon. Goodfoot the Coyote trader has designs on robbing the wrecked city blind. Sandorst the Owl is more concerned with political machinations and increasing his own influence than with the good of the people. The ground-dwelling bison are bitter and Seven-Scars is plotting revenge. The good guys like Dusty the terrier and Gharta the warthog don’t stand a chance. Or they wouldn’t, if Learoyd, their Champion, didn’t play by an entirely different set of rules.
It’s inventive and different, chock full of cool worldbuilding and explosive action.
Why do I say that? Because he doesn't need to rely on any superhero tropes, and he's telling a longer story and than any 2 or 3-issue story arc (as is his norm with ASTRO CITY).
High fantasy has its share of tropes and cliches and things we've done before, and there are a great many elements in THE AUTUMNLANDS that are recognizable, but the way this story is told... the anthropomorphic animals are an amazing angle to get into this story of a waning culture. The names of the characters are ripe high fantasy, and that gives them some additional fun.
The mythical champion, who is supposed to save anthropomorphic animals, turns out to be a human plucked from somewhere else in space-time, creates a level of storytelling tension and reverses expectations for the characters in a delightful way.
The art is fantastic; colorist Jordie Bellaire gives grace to dozens of comic books, but this might be my favorite work of hers yet. The color palette, while in a narrow tonal range, is still vibrant, arresting, and crucial in telling the story. A great deal of the "cinematography" of comics comes from the composite work the penciler, inker, and the colorist... yet the colorist is rarely spoken in the same breadth.
Benjamin Dewey's line art must be seen to be believed... the splash pages are full of detail, the page layouts are never dense and convey the emotion and meaning of the story the way you want it without having to re-read a page or series of panel to collect the building action.
The Autumnlands are a place where animals walk upright and wield magic. There are the sky people and the land dwellers. The problem for the sky people is that magic is dying out. A great wizardess convinces a team of wizards to help her cast a spell to bring from the past The Champion, who supposedly created magic as it exists in the Autumnlands. The spell, however, uses up too much magic, and their floating city, which is held up by magic, crashes to the ground. Land dwellers (bison tribes) attack and slaughter any who survived the fall. The sky dwellers are saved by The Champion, who is a human. He is from a past that looks very much like our future and has all kinds of neat technical tools. But the bison tribes are reuniting to take out the remaining sky dwellers and their Champion.
This is one of the longer graphic novels I've read, at 150+ pages, and it was only Volume 1, so I feel like you get a good deal for the price you pay. There is a lot of great story in this book, and I am only touching on the broadest strokes. This one is worth reading.