Autumnlands #5 is full of scheming that wouldn’t be out of place in Shakespeare’s history plays. The first arc isn’t over, and there are already three distinct factions: the skeptics led by the owl mage Sandorst, who wants to preserve the status quo, the believers led by the giraffe Affa and the warthog Gharta, who believe that the human “Champion” Learoyd will restore the lost magic. Then, there is the ferocious Bison Tribe led by Seven-Scars, who wants revenge against the “Skydwellers” that oppressed his people for so long. The enigmatic fox trader Goodfoot and the foulmouthed human warrior (possibly from some post-apocalyptic future) are the wild cards.
Writer Kurt Busiek takes this in-depth mythos and creates a universal story with big themes, like one’s purpose in the world, the relationship between younger and older generations, and rebuilding after a cataclysmic disaster. He explores these ideas through relationships and interactions between characters, especially Dusty, who has grown close to Learoyd in the past few issues while also continuing to develop the series of alliances, backstabbings, and manipulations.
However, Autumnlands #5’s intricate tapestry of adventure, betrayal, and a dash of love and friendship wouldn’t be the same without the artistic talents of Ben Dewey and Jordie Bellaire. Dewey applies the high fantasy painting style of Frank Frazetta to a huge cast of anthropomorphic animals as well a variety of settings from an opening sequence in a bat cave to the ruins of Keniel, the once great magic city in the sky. His character designs are detailed, but not in static way. Dewey can reveal a character’s motivations by posing him or her in a certain way or by doing a quick close-up on their eyes. (Especially with the owl Sandorst.)
Jordie Bellaire’s colors add to the wonder and sadness of Autumnlands and immediately pop out at readers. She uses a subdued palette for the most part, like brown for the guano filled (Yuck!) bat cave or some whites and soft browns for Dusty. Occasionally, she’ll go bolder like a deep purple for a burst of magic or a layer of shadows for a scene of intrigue. (Usually Goodfoot, whose coloring is all over the place in a good way.) She and Dewey’s complex mix of paint and colors bring this mesmerizing world to life and add depth to the world they’ve built with Kurt Busiek.
Autumnlands #5 is another great chapter in this high fantasy epic as Busiek balances political tension, character relationships, and even throws some well-timed, funny dialogue from fish out of water Learoyd to make sure the story isn’t overtly tragic. Combined with the beautiful storytelling of Dewey and Bellaire, Autumnlands #5 continues to show why it’s the best fantasy comic currently on sale.