Fresh from the mind of Joshua Williamson, Birthright is an interesting new series from Image. The concept is quite simple: a young boy by the name of Mikey vanishes seemingly into thin air, causing havoc on his family from his absence to the point of breaking that is until a year later when a stranger arrives, straight out of a fantasy paperback and sporting an arsenal that would make Conan jealous, claims to be Mikey grown up. And yes, it’s actually Mikey. It turns out he was the champion of a far off realm called Terrenos fated to liberate the land from the monstrous God King Lore. However, what he leaves out is how Mikey himself is under the control of Lore himself with a mission to make Earth his next conquest.
Needless to say, Birthright hits the ground running with its story as all of that backstory is fleshed out in only issue one. This series its concept from old-school fantasy like The Chronicles of Narnia and John Carter of Mars. The difference is where in those are stories of the common person whisked off to a world of imagination, Birthright deals with the aftermath of that type of scenario. In that way, the best comparison would be Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, but with some more modern sensibilities. The story is told two-fold, one segment follows child Mikey and his journey to become the hero of legend, and the other goes with adult Mikey as he manipulates his family while he serves the God King Lore. In almost any other book, the “then” and “now” writing style would fall flat. A few years ago, this method infested itself within several of the Big Two’s titles (Captain Marvel, Wolverine, and Justice League United all come to mind) but here it works. That’s because often the two plot lines connect thematically and are a useful way to set up plot twists and alike. There are some flaws, however. One would be the dynamic of the family. While it’s good that this issue gets right into the meat of the story, it glances over a lot of characterization. Mikey’s mother, for one, is the family member most left out and if it weren’t for a small scene, she’d fall under the stock, “no-fun mom” stereotype. There’s similar issues with an FBI agent and the mother’s boyfriend who go seemingly unnamed. There are a number of small character details that go unmentioned that make the story awkward at times. Also, it’s important to note that when buying this trade that while one is buying a whole book, these five issues don’t read like a proper story arc. Perhaps the next five will come together to form a complete arc, but anyone picking up this first trade and expecting full closure will be disappointed.
With its look, Birthright is impressive. Artist Andrei Bressan has the grudging task of combining together high concept fantasy and the everyday into a cohesive whole. It’s safe to say he’s pulled it off. While the world of Terrenos, for now, falls into the checklist of fantasy clichés, there’s enough originality in creature designs to make the land engaging. The aesthetic is something like the heavy metal-lite look to Patrick Gleason’s Green Lantern Corps work. The book can go from solemn and moody to explosive and action-packed. Bressan rings a lot of character out of the cast with minor expressions and mannerisms that helps the book in many ways. If there is one hang up with the artwork, it would be that it often feels blocky. It’s not bad, though it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, Bressan shines as an excellent fantasy artist and has an excellent imagination to boot. His place is right on this book.
Despite some pacing issues and some paper-thin side characters, Birthright “Homecoming” is an exciting new sword and sorcery tale. Where many stories often try the “What if?” spin on old fantasy tropes and soon run out of gas, Williamson has a clear set goal for this series that not only makes this first outing engaging, it promises many great stories to come. Bressan covers a wide range of moods and settings in these five issues and doesn’t miss a beat. He and Williamson work hand in hand as any small flukes the one might make, the other carries the project through. This is definitely a book worth following.