The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw by Kurt Busiek illustrated by Benjamin Dewey
When a secret conclave of wizards brings a legendary hero back from the forgotten past to save their dying world, they get a hero unlike anything they expected, and trigger a crisis none of them may survive. From New York Times bestselling writer Kurt Busiek (Astro City, Marvels), rising-star artist Benjamin Dewey (I Was the Cat, Tragedy Series), and award-winning colorist Jordie Bellaire, The Autumnlands begins an epic fantasy tale of survival and adventure in a world of beast-wizards, sorcery, brutality, and hope. This specially-priced volume collects the first six issues of the hit series for adults that Wired calls “…deep, rich and quirky enough to stand leagues ahead of its competition.”
I picked this one up because I’m incredibly fond of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. So, seeing little more than a name and some anthropomophised fauna, I took a chance on it.
The story’s told in essentially three parts. Each issue opens with a few pages of mytho-historical imagery, followed by a page of fictive literature complete with attribution. These are followed by the story proper. Each issue thus leads the reader into the realm of fantasy, grounding her in a complex existing world and creating a space for semiological reverberation. How does the initial data inflect the panels to come?
You get the sense of both history repeating itself and of the malleable nature of accepted wisdom. So when notions of privilege, perspective, and prejudice arise in the story they don’t have to be foregrounded. The reader does the work, sees the implications, remains immersed.
It helps that the seventeen floating cities are essentially populated by single animal tribes, of course, and that the dogs are loyal traditionalists, the owls are imperious know-it-alls. Our own preconceptions and even our myths influence our reading. So when a fox shows up, we know not to trust her.
Our hero, the main PoV character is Dunstan, a terrier and the son of the leader of Keneil. He makes daily obeisance to the gods of commerce, of housing and urban development, but he longs for more. Because this is epic fantasy, he gets it. Some of his illusions about race relations are shattered almost immediately when he accompanies his father on a trade expedition. and his world collapses when an ambitious warthog hosts a conclave of magicians in the westernmost city.
Benjamin Dewey performs a small miracle distinctly depicting dozens of creatures. He shows a range of emotion among his nonhuman faces. Whether it’s ursine unction, amphibian fear, avian arrogance, or rodent curiosity, its clear to the eye. But the cityscapes and natural vistas are just as powerful. Regardless of perspective and scope the stakes are always clear. With assistance from Jordie Bellaire, the panels scintillate.
With a cast of diverse zoomorphs, it’s patently obvious that the legendary mysterious magical entity will be one of us. So why not give it away on the cover.? In fact, it’s important to the story only in that none of the animals might claim him as their own and assert their supremacy.
Recommended for fans of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Beasts of Burden, and Avatar: The Last Airbender.