By: Paul Cornell (writer), Diógenes Neves & Robson Rocha (pencillers), Oclair Albert & Julio Ferreira (inkers), Marcelo Maiolo (colorist)

The Story: Someone turn on the Braveheart soundtrack—it’s time to get hyped for war!

The Review: This title has so successfully gotten us caught up in its fantasy, humor, and tension that only sporadically do we remember that it’s essentially a war story, which means it entails a higher degree of moral spottiness than other kinds of tales.  Sure, casualties pop up in pretty much every bout of superheroics, but in a war, the mortality rate is not only impossible to overlook, it also speaks to the tragic pointlessness to it all.

Cornell has no intention of letting us forget that’s the kind of story we’re dealing with here.  The moment he had a young lass brutally beheaded in #3, you had to know he wasn’t just fooling around with dinosaurs in this series.  No matter how much action goes down—and in this issue, the action is nonstop—we never lose sight of the fact that ultimately, this arc determines not only the fate of the protagonists, but of a village of innocents who stand to lose absolutely everything.

So even though the Knights manage to come out the other end of the issue (barely) alive, with the Horde in full retreat, it is at best a hollow victory.  The price of this result is so bloodily high that you have to ask yourself if it wouldn’t have been more cost-beneficial to surrender early on.  The self-righteous can argue all they want that even in death, at least the villager kept their freedom, but for most of us, freedom comes a poor second to staying alive.

Worse still, the retreat of the Horde does not meant the defeat of the Horde.  The Questing Queen expresses amazement at the Knights’ feat only insofar as “They actually held us.”  Not that they sent the foundations of her army tumbling down, or struck a mortal blow to either her or Mordru’s life—only that they literally managed to keep the enemy from taking one last step to complete and utter triumph, and merely temporarily, at that.

If anyone has truly benefited by the Knights’ efforts, it’s the people of Alba Sarum, apparently the last bastion of civilized order in a world increasingly dominated by the barbaric Horde.  Yet there’s something not quite all right with Alba; though their appearance bespeaks nobility and goodness, their words seem chillingly unaffected by the death, loss, and ruin around them as they declare, “Be joyful!  You have protected our nation and its people.  Here today, you have won a great victory.”  We will see if the Knights get along better with these lordly folk than those they’ve encountered so far.

Rocha’s work can only be distinguished from Neves’ by a barely noticeable skimping in detail, the example being all the scratches and injuries on Shining Knight and Exoristos’ body which mysteriously vanish once Rocha takes up the pencils.  Anyway, Neves controls the vast bulk of the issue, which is great because he captures  every gory, grim moment of the issue in stark detail.  Every panel, from biggest to smallest, bursts at the seams with characters, props, sets, and landscapes, all exactingly depicted down to the stumps of trees in the background and the facial features of “extras” battling in the distance.

Conclusion: A very hectic, engrossing issue, jam-packed with material, and at the back of it all, a lingering taste of the bitterness of war.  A strong first arc, though not one with much hope to it.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Etrigan may disclaim even the slightest bit of affection for mankind, but that seems at odds to his deep attachment to Xanadu.  You’d think a demon would only see a woman as a handy sex object, so why the cry of dismay when she gets hurt?

– I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Cornell and Neves choose to cut from Hell to Little Spring and make it seem like there’s hardly any difference.  Clever stuff.

– Any possibility Horsewoman is some distant, illustrious ancestor of Paul Revere?