By: Paul Cornell (writer), Diógenes Neves (penciller), Oclair Albert (inker), Marcelo Maiolo (colorist)

The Story: The Horde is coming, the Horde is coming!

The Review: Works of fantasy have lent a kind of glamour to the period in which they take place.  Whether you’re talking Arthurian legend, Tolkien, or even World of Warcraft, their tales of knights and mages, stallions and dragons, chivalry and destiny have painted a gloss of excitement to what was actually one of the grimmest, least heartwarming times of our world’s history.  So in that sense, the fantasy genre truly lives up to its name.

For the first couple issues, this series seemed set to buy into this trend of scrubbing up the Middle Ages, only it went for the humorous route than epic.  After all, when you have a cliffhanger of flame-breathing, armored dinosaurs raging into a bar, you can’t expect this title to take itself that seriously.  Even here, where events show we’ve clearly entered a dark point in the plot, Cornell can’t resist getting in a few laughs here and there.

Savage is downright jokey about the whole matter, in a hopeless, let’s-make-merry-while-we-go-down kind of way.  Too long-lived and bearing too barbaric an origin to give a hoot about his choice of words, it’s no wonder he gets all the best lines.  In response to Horsewoman’s query about their next move against the Horde, he responds, “…all in all, I suspect the plan is: leave an exquisite corpse.  But I say—let’s at least give them a contest!

Things don’t look so good on the Etrigan-Xanadu-Jason Blood camp either.  Strangely, we often don’t get enough emphasis on the fact that Etrigan the Demon is, well, a demon, but you’ll be left in doubt after this issue.  Etrigan’s reaction over Xanadu’s sacrifice seems to have little to do with love: “If I’ve lost her beauty [emphasis added], I’ll roast you all in your own fat!”  His rage has more of the greedy subtext of a rich man upset over a stain on his best suit.

Xanadu doesn’t give any clarity to this love triangle with her “double-dealing,” as Exoristos calls it contemptuously.  One moment you’re sure Xan only has eyes for the Demon, the next, you’re left stymied by her reassuring words to Jason when he reappears.  “—my love.  I will… always urge the Demon to depart.  I will… always want you to… return.”  This kind of behavior is nothing new from the fortuneteller, but it does leave you wondering where she stands.

The moment you really begin to understand how dark this title plans to go comes at the end.  Exoristos learns the hard way that independence and assertiveness are fine qualities to instill in women, but it’s another thing altogether to react to a girl-child’s proposition of a suicide mission with an ecstatic, “Go to it, sister!”  The final page tells you Cornell has no intention of turning this plotline into an after-school fantasy romp where a kid saves the day.

Neves strikes just the right balance between cartooniness and depth to suit Cornell’s dual roles as satirist and dedicated character writer.  Not only does Neves lend tremendous detail to his work, he does it always to enhance, rather than simply decorate, the story at hand (Savage’s flying spittle as he laughs, the Madame Xanadu poppet Mordru caresses in his hand, etc.).  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the invaluable support of Albert and Maiolo in making this title look like the comic of most fantasy geeks’ dreams.

Conclusion: As one of the best crafters of character in the business, Cornell ensures the issue has plenty of zip and remarkable lines, but it also happens to have a strong, engaging plot and lovely artwork.  A winner, in my book.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Poor, poor Father Theod.  From the looks of it, this well-meaning cleric never did a wrong in his life.  He hardly deserves, for his life of sincere piety, to be dragged to hell as a result of getting too close during Etrigan’s hissy-fit.

– Disturbingly enough, it seems rather than the Demon existing within Jason, Etrigan actually spends most his time in hell itself, meaning Jason pays a severe price every time he calls the Demon out: “I was… so long in hell that time.”