Sword of Ages #2
Writer: Gabriel Rodriguez
Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez
Cover: Gabriel Rodriguez
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Robbie Robbins
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
When I first encountered Sword of Ages recently, I came in with virtually no expectations. While I was aware of Gabriel Rodriguez as an artist, it was mostly by reputation, most notably through his work on Locke & Key. Generally, though, I knew very little about this title, though the idea itself looked promising.
Sword of Ages can be best described as a science fantasy based on Arthurian legends. This title takes the familiar tales of knights and kings that we’ve seen many times before, but transplanting it into the far future and on a distant planet. This allows Rodriguez a wide tapestry to experiment with, whether it’s reinventing classic characters or introducing new twists on concepts that have been retold throughout history.
I was pleasantly surprised by the opening two issues of this series. In fact, Sword of Ages may be one of the true hidden gems of 2018.
The main cover of this title hooked me in immediately. It’s a very simple cover, depicting one of the villainous characters, Lord Morgan, in a simple striking pose. However, the pose and expression tell me everything that I need to know about this character. There is a smug arrogance on the face of this character, and his posture is that of a villain who appears to be completely in control of his surroundings. There is a scheming look in his eye as he sets his plan into motion. The massive robotic figure behind him is visually interesting to look at as well, and the design is compelling enough to convince me to turn the page. Another worthwhile aspect of this cover is the focus on black and red, with the background colored using subdued earth tones. This contrast makes Morgan more visually prominent, adding more intrigue and interest in this character.
Gabriel Rodriguez is attempting something truly massive and ambitious with this series, and this becomes clear even through the visuals. That Rodriguez is a skilled craftsman becomes clear even within the first few pages. There is a pacing between scenes and panels that looks carefully constructed, and there isn’t a frame that is wasted in these pages. Even when space is used to indicate chapter titles, it takes only enough space to make the necessary point to the reader. Rodriguez is an artist who also clearly understands the relationship between space and time within a comic, and he uses this to strong effect here.
One major element that he should also be applauded for is the intense worldbuilding at play within Sword of Ages. Building a complex, dynamic universe that feels lived in and credible is no easy task, and Rodriguez manages this through clever use of background detail. Each location he builds is unique and distinct, and yet each one ties back visually to elements of Arthurian lore. Rodriguez also doesn’t take the Star Wars approach of composing his world with a single environment, instead creating a thriving and dynamic setting. Even though it’s doubtful we’ve even scratched the surface of this planet, it’s clear that this is a world with varied geography and resources. The art effectively hints at the depths we don’t see just as much as illustrating clearly what we’re meant to see.
Although the art is impressive, the coloring brings vibrancy and an alien touch to the world of Sword of Ages. The detailed landscapes of this planet take on a sense of the unusual as much because of the red-orange hues of the sky or because of the soft blue of Merlin’s appearance. With a cast this large and a story this complex, the coloring also serves the purpose of distinguishing between the various people and factions. Lord Morgan could not be confused for Avalon, who wears largely brown hides and earthen colors. The alien species also look separate from each other, both through their costumes as well as their physical appearances. At the same time, it’s the unearthly aspects of the legends where the coloring truly becomes interesting. The Sword in the Stone appears larger than life as depicted here, and it’s as much the deep green of the water as it is the emerald surface of the Stone. The Clarke idea of science being indistinguishable from magic is at work in this title, with the coloring adding to the magical flavor of the super-science.
The lettering doesn’t do much to distinguish itself, which is often the mark of a solid letterer. The work on this issue doesn’t do anything to draw attention, making sure to let Rodriguez and Kindzierski’s outstanding visuals catch the eye as they should. In some cases, that does take some clever balloon placement, especially in some of the smaller panels where the text is heavy on exposition. The lettering also clearly distinguishes between speakers where they’re not clearly indicated, usually through caption coloring. There’s never an instance where it’s not clear who is speaking, and at no point does the letter work do anything to take the reader out of the narrative. This book also makes very minimal use of sound effects, which is to its credit, so when they are present, they carry more narrative weight.
Although Rodriguez is an accomplished artist, he’s also showing himself to be a promising writer in these pages. The world that he’s built within these pages is a fully realized setting, complete with different factions with their own goals and agendas. He understands the motivations of the various characters that we’re traveling with. Avalon is an idealistic heroine who sees the suffering of the people and wants to improve it. Her idealism contrasts with her companions, who have learned to live with the world as it is, but come to slowly respect Avalon over time. At the same time, Rodriguez shows us glimpses of the different alien species and the threat of the Templar Order, who operate from a clear ideology with defined goals. Events circle into motion just with short scenes in the background, showing us the threat that Avalon must eventually face on her journey.
Another compelling facet of Rodriguez’s story is how he’s changed the familiar archetypes of these great Arthurian characters. The most obvious element is the gender-swapping between Avalon, meant to represent King Arthur in this narrative, and Lord Morgan, this world’s version of Morgan le Fey. This is an inventive switch that allows for an interesting new take, though it does make one wonder how Mordred fits into this new paradigm. Likewise, the new versions of Merlin, Gawain, and Lancelot have promising moments, though we’ve yet to see this series deeply explore them. Still, there’s just enough to intrigue me and want to learn more about them. I don’t think any of these changes undermine the legend in any way, and the futuristic setting allows Rodriguez to make these archetypal heroes his own.
Sword of Ages in epic adventure that is still in its initial stages, but I’m impressed by its sheer boldness and ambition. While bringing the Camelot myth into the future is certainly not a new thing, the execution shows a deep level of skill, care, and imagination. This is a world I hope to learn more about in the coming issues, and I will gladly follow Avalon on her quest if it remains at this quality. If you have room in your pull list for another indie title, I strongly suggest trying this one.
Written by Steve Sellers
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