The expedition into Kurt Busiek’s Autumnlands continues and as expected, it’s a wonderful piece of work. One of Tooth & Claw’s strengths has been its limited exposition. The world the characters inhabit is explained through the story, trusting the audience to fill in the gaps. Aspects, like insectoid beasts of burden and wicker-built cities, come naturally as part of the series’ excellent world building and this issue continues the trend.
The story so far follows the refugees of a flying city, Keneil, brought crashing down to earth by accident when a council of wizards attempt to summon a great warrior from the distant past. With scattered leadership and facing down the wrath of the land-dwelling bison tribes, the people of Keneil must find a way to survive in a world they’ve always looked down upon. The wizard, Gharta, is doing her best to make sure everyone lives; the pompous Sandorst seeks to undermine her authority and rule for himself; Goodfoot, a self-interested trader, has her eyes on the city’s unguarded wealth; all while the bison tribe’s leader, Seven Scars, seeks to wipe them all out. What shakes things up is the Champion, a human from another time and place, who is properly annoyed that he’s been dumped in a strange world of magic and talking animals and trying to live long enough to get back home.
However the real star of this issue is Dustan, a recently orphaned trader’s son. Despite being the comic’s sole narrator, Dusty’s had very little panel time as of late as the big political players have been dominating the spotlight. This month gives him a chance to stretch his legs as he develops a relationship with the Champion. It’s a refreshing change of pace given how dire the story has been so far. The first two issues have been filled with death, murder, blood, and gore; and to let things settle down for a while is welcoming. The story does eventually pull back into the grander narrative where Gharta, Sandorst, Goodfoot, Seven Scars, and the Champion are all plotting against each other and it’s going to be exciting as this arc concludes in two months.
As expected, Benjamin Dewey takes no breaks this issue. This might be his best yet as he’s allowed to change up the landscape of Tooth & Claw from decimated city ruins to breath taking countryside. It’s obvious some pages are drawing directly from the opening number of The Sound of Music. He shows pastures, mountain ranges, cliffs, and rivers all in awe-inspiring detail. To make things better, Dewey’s use of panel layout conveys the great expanse of the land. One special highlight is a glimpse at a functioning bison village that’s filthy and famished yet beautiful in its design. There’s even some sprinkling of cool Miyazaki-esque aesthetics in the form of a pseudo-sentient walking wicker chair that the Champion rides around in.
Though it debuted last year, The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw is shaping up into one of the best reads of 2015. It features an original, rich, and thought-out world home to captivating creatures both great and small. The future of Keniel hangs in the balance as the cast connive against each other. Chances are an attentive reader can predict who is planning what but how these agendas will collide is going to be something to behold and lead to an explosive ending. The only time this issue lets down is when it has to end.