3 out of 5
This was a long wait for an ultimately disappointing arc.
…Not because the writing or art were particularly lacking (Benjamin Dewey is superhumanly awesome and Jordie Bellaire’s rich watery colors with comicraft’s lettering establish the fantastical tone to perfection), just that Busiek decides to stake the story out much farther and wider than I would have guessed, and it might be a little too soon for that. The long delay between issues is a part of that (an idea of the story has longer to settle in your head) but arc-wise, we only had six issues to learn a bit about the magic and races of the Autumnlands, and now we’re racing off in some meta directions with other races left in our wake. As I’m reading Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame! right now as well, I can’t help but compare it to that title’s frustrating reroutes, adding whole new aspects to its world at will, just as you’ve come to terms with previous aspects. The end result is impressive, and easier on a reread, but experiencing it “live” can be tough.
I also think these issues spot what may become more of a problem later. Often, a writer will establish some repeated element that then becomes repetitive later on; having Dusty be our narrator from a future point is already leading to several tiresome (and pointless) “if I knew then what I knew now…” narrational dead-ends, and the second page interruption of relative snippets from in-universe fictional pulp books – while tying in to where it seems this is going – start to feel like they chop up the flow as Busiek grows his world. Arc one was square in fantasy, with odd elements, but arc two the oddity takes over, so those interruptions become potential clutter.
Newbie magician Dusty and the Champion are on the planet surface, escaping from the Buffalo battle when they run across a mystery involving some mutations and tainted water and a rumble between the Goats and the Sheep. The Champion Learoyd also starts to have some strange – and unexplained – visions, that seemingly spur him to want to resolve this mystery. In so doing, the answer really is just another mystery, but, as mentioned, it does give some insight into our setting.
Busiek keeps the pace light, but I do miss getting to know the characters we were in the first arc; I can’t help but imagine how much more mind boggling this arc would’ve been with a slower lead-in, but I can understand that’s not how selling comics always works.
The good news is that there’s still plenty to explore, both character-wise and in terms of story. Hopefully the publishing schedule will be adjusted to get on track for the next arc and we’ll see where this go from there…