Review: ‘Black Beth And The Devils Of Al-Kadesh’ – Sword & Sorcery Hasn’t Looked So Good In A Long Time!
by Richard Bruton
Classic sword & sorcery, bringing back a forgotten character from the mists of time in Brit comics, Alec Worley and DaNi’s ‘Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh’ is wonderful comic. Worley’s story plays it all straight, all the better to allow DaNi’s art to shine – and it absolutely does, making Black Beth a striking example of an artist at their height making beautiful work.
Sword and sorcery is back at the Treasury of British Comics, as Alec Worley and DaNi return to the world of Black Beth for an all-new special, one that’s very special indeed thanks to DaNi‘s absolutely stunning artwork.
We already gave you a preview of Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh, where we told you about a strip that appeared, just once, in the Scream! Holiday Special of 1988, two years after Scream! had ceased publication. It had been created many years prior, with Spanish artist Blas Gallego and an unknown writer working for another comic called Scream back in the ’70s. When that earlier Scream never got off the ground, the Black Beth strip just sat in one of many art draws at publishers IPC, until being rescued as a cheap filler for the 1988 Scream! Special.
And that would have been it, were it not for Alec Worley, who saw Black Beth when just a wee thing and loved it. Fast forward to 2018 and Worley, still a huge fan, pitched a new Black Beth strip for the Scream! & Misty 2018 Special, published by the Treasury of British Comics, with another strip following in the Misty & Scream! 2020 Special. But those were really just short, black and white appetisers for this, the 32-pages of full-colour main event – the triumphant return of Black Beth!
The actual Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh Special also includes a couple of backup stories from Alec Worley, Andrea Bulgarelli, Doug Graves, and Vincenzo Riccardi, plus a couple of gorgeous pin-ups by David Roach and Andreas Butzbach. All of which are enjoyable things, but I make no apology for only concentrating on the main strip here.
In Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh, the warrior woman brings her curved blade to bear in a new quest, along with her blind aide Quido, as they go in search of the evil witch Anis-Amuun. Charged by the mage, Estevan, with their mission to destroy the witch, we’re off on one of those epic sword & sorcery adventures.
The important thing here is that Worley, sensibly, seems to have chosen not to do anything more here than just go all-out on the sword & sorcery adventure. There’s no undermining the genre, there’s no taking it in a surprising direction, this is a simple, and damn good, love letter to a genre, and a character, that he’s been in love with since he was young. And that’s the strength of Black Beth, it does just what you expect it to do.
Granted, it does it with fine style, Worley’s story full of all the required elements, a couple of well-defined main characters, snappy dialogue, a supernatural threat, betrayal, and a twist in the tail. But the key to enjoying this is just to enjoy it for what Worley designed it to be, a fabulously enjoyable S&S adventure.
However, what takes this into the realms of stunning work isn’t so much in Worley’s story as it is with DaNi’s artwork. You may already know the artist from her work on various Rebellion characters and Treasury strips, or you may know her from the Image series Coffin Bound, but her art here in Black Beth is just a revelation, full of beauty, abstraction, incredible detail, lush, evocative colours, and incredible panel and page constructions.
Here’s what I mean, all in one gorgeous page…
The early press for Black Beth already made the comparison to the great Sergio Toppi, an artist revered for his compositions, layouts, and incredible draughtsmanship. And although I’m sure DaNi would blush at the comparison, it’s one that’s more than warranted.
You can see it in the whole page, the wonderful panel layouts, the whole sweeping flow to the page, following the direction of Beth’s dagger in the first two panels, eyes trailing down the Seer’s figure until expanding out to take in Beth once more, until following the curve of her blade to the final panel. Simply wonderful stuff.
But it’s also a brilliant bit of art when broken down into individual panels, so much beauty and brilliance in DaNi’s work…
Look at that gorgeous work there in the first panel, so many little elements to consider, all contributing to a panel that’s just wonderful, in a page so good. The simple abstraction of the background contrasted so well with the stark, yet still minimal, work on Black Beth and the Seer, through to the foreground of the pots, giving a sense of depth to it all. So lovely.
The draughtsmanship, the linework, the evocative use of shape and colour – you can see why those Toppi comparisons are perfectly valid, can’t you?
In that closeup of Black Beth, there’s all that exquisite detail on the armour, yet there’s still the open line, the use of colour to define space and a sense of light, highlighting Beth against the backdrop.
Or this… the final panel of the page…
That final panel, again the beautiful linework in the closeup, and another complete change on a page with those five distinct panels – none the same, all with their own qualities and colour palettes, they hold together as a stunning whole.
Frankly, the entirety of the art in Black Beth is just as much of a delight, just as much of a visual tour-de-force. I could pull page after page, panel after panel out and put them before you as evidence. But it’s absolutely unnecessary, you’ve already seen the dark, fabulous beauty of Black Beth and DaNi’s artwork already.
It’s a stunning piece of work, with Alec Worley’s entertaining story just the perfect foundation that allows DaNi the freedom to do this career-high work. It’s a book that should be essential reading for all comic fans, immaterial of how enjoyable you’ve found sword & sorcery in the past. Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh is just a book that will delight anyone with a love of comic art.
Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh – Published by Rebellion & The Treasury Of British Comics
Black Beth and the Devils of Al-Kadesh – Story by Alec Worley, art by Dani, letters by Simon Bowland.
Black Beth: Fairy Tales – Story by Alec Worley, art by Andrea Bulgarelli, letters by SG.
Death-Man: When The Man Comes To Town – Story by Doug Graves, art by Vincent Riccardi, letters by SG.
Cover by Andrea Bulgarelli