With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we talk about a fascinating spin on portal fantasy.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before- a young human child is transported into a magical world, discovers that they’re the “chosen one” and defeats a powerful evil ruler. It’s a story that’s been told many times. However, in Birthright V1: Homecoming, that classic storytelling trope gets a major modern twist, thanks to creators Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan, Adriano Lucas, and Pat Brosseau.
When their son Mikey disappeared into the woods one day, the Rhodes family was shattered. It’s a year later, and each family member is still coping in their own way. When a massive barbarian appears in the woods where Mikey disappeared, claiming to be the missing child, they’re about to be drawn into a terrifying adventure unlike anything they expected.
Tony Thornley: So you’ve read the Narnia books or Harry Potter or any number of fantasy novels where a “normal” kid is suddenly drawn into a magical world. Those always seem to end the same way- either the kid is returned exactly where and how they started or they are fully integrated into their new world. I genuinely can’t think of any “portal fantasy” that goes where Williamson and Bressan go here.
Brendan Allen: If anything, it’s a little bit of a backward take on some of the fantasy films from the eighties. Flight of the Navigator comes to mind, except when Joey returned to his family, the impossible scenario was that he was still twelve years old, when everyone else had aged eight years in his absence.
TT: I just rewatched that in the last week, and you’re right. It’s sort of the reverse.
I really enjoyed the first couple issues, because Williamson goes heavily into loss and mourning. The Rhodes were put through hell in the year Mikey was missing. Aaron, his father, was the prime suspect for his disappearance. Aaron and Wendy (his mother) split up, and she filed for divorce. Brennan, the older brother, went through hell.
I think comics have a problem with realism and “grit” going too far. Right here though, Williamson hit the perfect balance. Sure, he could have had the family stick together, mourning and hoping. But families fall apart in circumstances like this. But then… Mikey comes back in just about the most unexpected way possible.
BA: There’s a very heavy, realistic element to that. More frequently than not, families that go through this type of trauma don’t make it through to the other side intact. It’s not pretty, but it’s raw and believable, and it’s hard to fault anyone in the situation for dealing with their grief in their own ways. I mean, pops is an alcoholic, so he probably could have channeled his emotion into healthier venues, but the circumstances are certainly understandable.
TT: Yeah for sure. Now, this is a fantasy-adventure comic, so Williamson doesn’t dwell on that for the entire length of the story arc. He does give it enough focus though. Then, halfway through the first issue, we meet adult Mikey and we’re introduced to Terrenos, the fantasy realm he was transported to.
Though the transition is a bit abrupt once the adventure starts rolling, I really like what Williamson and Bressan do from this point on. Mikey has a mission, he’s going to Conan it up, and save the Earth… or so you think.
BA: I like that the real threat is introduced early. It gives a lot of depth to Mikey’s struggle, and establishes that this was the plan all along. I’m sitting here trying to think of any other way it would have made sense, and I can’t. They nailed it.
TT: Without a doubt. And (SPOILERS) the fact that Mikey may actually be the bad guy? That landed SO well for me.
I like Bressan’s art here, especially when combined with Lucas’s colors. I’ll go back to what I said about grit. They do gritty realism together right off the bat. Aaron is a mess, and you feel it in how they draw him- his demeanor, body language, even his clothes.
And we always have to mention when an artist actually draws a kid like a kid- Bressan does that with Brennan, Mikey, and Mikey’s winged companions, especially Rya, a key character later in the series. When a coming of age story is a part of the larger book, the artist needs to be able to draw kids. I definitely think he succeeds.
BA: The emotion in this book is really important, too. Just in those first few pages, we go from happy-go-lucky to absolute terror and the depths of despair. It’s written all over their faces and evident in their posture and gestures. That first sequence would almost play as well with no dialogue at all.
TT: Oh absolutely. That panel where Aaron realizes something has happened? It’s genuinely terrifying, and he doesn’t even have to say anything.
As much as I think Bressan and Lucas do a good job in the real world, holy crap they kill it in Terrenos. The monsters, the citizens, the environment. Bressan designed this vibrant fantasy realm, and Lucas breathed life into it.
BA: It’s a tough balance, flipping back and forth between the ‘real’ world and a fantasy setting. The art team nails it. There is a ridiculous amount of detail grounding this side in realism. Then the fantasy elements pop up, and it still feels real, just… different. Each side has its own unique visual appeal.
TT: Yeah, for sure. It’s fantastic but feels grounded in its own way. Both Bressan and Lucas deserve equal credit for it too. It’s one of those books where the art team is just in lockstep.
So what did you think?
BA: I’m into it. This is definitely a series I would binge. Fantasy is not generally my genre, but this one grabbed me. This might be my favorite book we’ve done from your queue. Well played.
TT: Considering how highly you’ve talked about some of the others, that’s awesome. I genuinely had forgotten how much I’d liked this book, and it makes me excited to read more of it. Added plus, we’ve got another one of Williamson’s books in our queue in the next month or so. So what’s up next?
BA: We’re headed back to the Archie-verse with Blossoms 666 Vol. 1, by Cullen Bunn, Laura Braga, and Matt Herms. Take the most wholesome, apple pie community in American pop culture, and introduce the Anti-Christ. Fun times had by all.
TT: The Blossoms are the worst. They’re my favorite part of the Archie universe and I can’t wait.
Birthright Volume 1: Homecoming is available now from Image Comics in both print and digital formats.