Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Benjamin Dewey
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Published by Image Comics
Kurt Busiek’s Autumnlands series continues to be one of the most bizarre and fascinating reads currently hitting the shelves. Set in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals of all shapes and sizes, Tooth & Claw strikes a chord right in the same tune as Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. It’s a land before Tolkien’s Middle Earth inadvertently generalized mainstream epic fantasy and retains the wilder and more out-there ideas of forgotten old pulp paperbacks. The wondrous pencils and inks of Benjamin Dewey and colors from Jordie Bellaire paint a surreal and fantastic realm both similar and alien to our own.
The story so far has followed the inhabitants of Apalis, a shining city which hovers above the territory of a tribe of bison-men. When a council of wizards attempt to summon a mythic warrior from the distant past, they accidentally causes the city to plummet to earth. Even after the crisis, the survivors find themselves the victims of the vengeful bison tribes and only saved by the arrival of the great Champion whom turns out to be a creature completely foreign to them, a human.
If there’s one thing The Autumnlands can do, it’s cause the audience to second guess themselves. What direction this series will take is completely up in the air however it never feels like an actual problem. What’s important is the here and now as it seems the next issues are shaping up to be on the political side. Gharta, the warthog sorceress who summoned the Champion, is focused on saving potential survivors. Sandorst, a self-serving bureaucratic owl, is interested in salvaging the city’s wealth, the human hero himself has his own agenda, and there is the shady traveling merchant who arrives this issue, the sly coyote trader, Goodfoot. Oddly enough, the character who has slipped into the background is Dustan, a youthful canine who seems to be serving as the story’s main character. In this issue he mostly serves to string together the other emerging factions as they prepare to fend off the bison tribes.
The two star characters this issue are the Champion and Goodfoot. The Champion’s scant backstory reads like something from an entirely different genre, taking the “fish out of water” to a whole new extreme. It’s difficult to explain much about him without spoiling it but rest assured, there will be more than a few comparisons to Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness. Goodfoot, on the other hand, stands out as one of the book’s most fascinating players. She’s a masterfully designed character who makes herself one of the most entertaining members of the cast and a testament to Dewey’s skills as his pencil work loads her with charisma and charm.
The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw #3 is saddling up to be a high concept fantasy epic which starts from simple concepts and expands them into fascinating new ideas. With must swords and sorcery headed the way of George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire books where the fantastic is withheld and mythicized, it’s exciting to see extrapolations into the bizarre and otherworldly that Tooth & Claw offers. With a world and art of this quality at such a low cost, there’s no excuse to hitch a ride on this new imaginative epic.