(W) Alex de Campi, (A) Esau Escorza & Isaac Escorza, (C) Carlos Cabrera
For over forty years, Heavy Metal Magazine has been developing new creators while also giving readers accessibility to edgier, rawer material that Marvel or DC wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. In 1981, readers were introduced to arguably the magazine’s most iconic character: Taarna. Featured heavily in that same year’s animated movie Heavy Metal, Taarna is very much the magazine’s identity incarnate. Her stories are combine elements of science fiction and fantasy with a heightened eroticism that are simply mesmerizing. Her status as the magazine’s unofficial mascot is all the more impressive when you consider she’s made only 5 appearances total. But now she’s back in a new, ongoing series from acclaimed writer Alex de Campi and artists Esau and Isaac Escorza.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with Taarna is that she is heavily inspired by the French comic strip Arzach, who’s titular character is also a silent, warrior-woman that rides a pterodactyl across desolate landscapes. You might even say she is a direct rip-off. Despite the cult following for Taarna which as been built over the years, that damning part of her history continues to follow her. Realizing this, aside from the cover art, the creative team ditches the character’s iconography and spends this first issue rebuilding Taarna from the ground up.
The issue opens in the year 2507 in the crowded, poverty stricken city Dogtown. In one page, artists Esau and Isaac Escorza, along with colorist Carlos Cabrera give readers everything they need to know about this world. Marshall law is seemingly the norm, with impoverished citizens lining up to receive rations from a well-fed and heavily-armed military. The colors aide in developing this world through the liberal use of earth tones for the people and the terrain. Even the buildings are a combination of browns and beiges, implicating that the general populace lacks the luxuries we take for granted in our world. The only differentiation comes in the form of the blacks, greys, and blues of the military, indicative of the power they wield. It’s a good thing they manage to squeeze it into one page, because the issue kicks into gear in the first page’s final panels, as a bomb appears to go off in town. Only it it isn’t a bomb. It’s Taarna.
Just because the creative team’s intention is to rebuild this character does not mean they shy away from the things that have made her a cult figure for nearly 40 years. That means nudity. And while we are introduced to Taarna sans clothing, it is not done in an exploitative or degrading manner (such as in the Heavy Metal movie), but more organic manner. This Taarna is a celestial force that literally arrives from the heavens, and as quickly as she arrives she covers herself up. For the remainder of the issue, the Escorzas keep her covered up in full battle armor and not the iconic, barely existent costume on the cover.
Despite losing what is [sadly] her defining character trait, the reader remains drawn to her. Without a single utterance the entire issue, de Campi and the Escorzas flesh out her personality through her actions and reactions to the world around her. When another soldier remarks that they can’t wait to get out into battle, Taarna is shocked. Although she herself is a warrior, it is clear that violence and death is not her preferred course of action. When the commanding officer of the military gives a rousing speech, she is not worked up and ready to fight, but she does respond positively to his words regarding hope for a better future. During battle, she stops fighting to tend to the wounded and fallen. This is the foundation upon which de Campi and the art team will hope to build on in the future.
Taarna #1 is an exciting revival of a cult icon. While the issue does move at a breakneck pace, this is largely do to the issue’s dialogue-free nature. Much of the storytelling is presented visually, taking full advantage of the medium. With great art, great writing, and a captivating protagonist, there’s no reason to not check this out.