3 out of 5
After an amazing first arc that managed to successfully mush together an origin story, world building, and a beginning-middle-end structured sense of progression for our lead, displaced sorceress, Amelia Cole, our creative crew – co-writers Adam Knave and D.J. Kirkbride, artist Nick Brokenshire, letterer Rachel Deering, and colorist Ruiz Moreno – all return to show us where we go from here.
…Or to set up where we go from here. The sophomore arc following a fantastic kick-off is always a tough one, as it’s risky to jump right into something big again, so you normally end up juggling lighter plot lines. And that’s exactly the case here: Cole is now the Protector, and spends the arc complaining about her boss, The Magistrate, being up to behind-the-scenes things – already hinted at in volume 1 – while she’s essentially kept on ice handling smaller tasks. We spend an equal amount of time cutting the Hector, former protector, now conscripted into a magic army fighting a war with some beasties elsewhere. The origin of these beasties is likely the direction in which we’re heading, and how / if that might involve The Magistrate, but Hidden War isn’t there yet: it’s just Cole worrying; Hector fighting. And then at the end, we get the moments that will probably bring these two storylines together.
Thankfully, Knave and Kirkbride can rely on their already well-established and likeable cast to carry the weight of a slower story, as the duo’s dialogue has a nice balance of patter mixed with exposition, and hits enough funny beats – Cole’s relationship with her golem, Lemmy, offers some laugh out loud moments – without undermining the street-level vibe of the series. Brokenshire has a keen grasp on the world he’s working with, as well as an earned confidence with depicting Amelia’s various scuffles creatively. All of the moments with Hector are lacking in these two elements of support – his surrounding soldiers are mostly random faces, and we have no idea how the desert he’s fighting in is connection to Amelia’s city – which ill-combines with the sort of jumpy nature of the narrative (cutting back and forth between the two characters).
Also included in the trade are some short in-between-moments strips. They’re appreciated but don’t really add much to the world or story.
Hidden War is ultimately an enjoyable read, but it’ll be nice to get some forward momentum back now that the near-future direction of the series has been set up.