Writer: Ian Edginton
Artists: Greg Land (p), Matt Ryan (i)
Arwyn's quest for the legendary fragments of Ayden's Arrow takes her to the northern land of Skarnhime, a harsh and frigid realm. She's hoping to find the fourth fragment in this desolate land, but upon arrival, she finds something far less pleasant. An ancient and savage evil is on the prowl among the icy wastes. Will Arwyn and her companions become the next victims in its trail of blood?
But her problems don't end there. The undead tyrant, Mordath, is setting into motion a new plot against her. His trolls haven't had any success in bringing her into his skeletal clutch. Now he's enlisting outside help, the devilish Lady Khiva, an assassin who has been tasked to bring Arwyn's head to him, just her head.
But the most dangerous threat to Arwyn comes from within. Is her desire for revenge crushing her heroic spirit? Is obsession crowding out her compassion and empathy? When faced with people in need, is she willing to turn her back on them to pursue her quest for vengeance?
"You have your boot on the throats of the people of the Five Lands, but she is winning their hearts."
What makes a hero? This is the premise behind this issue, which Edginton deftly brings out in two parallel scenes. First, there is the scene between Mordath and Lady Khiva, where they negotiate the cost of the devilish assassin's expertise. The price is a high one, even surprising Mordath with its boldness, but is it worth it? Yes, the people of the Five Lands have been beaten into submission by Mordath's forces; their spirits have been broken. But, now, stories of an lady archer who walks in defiance against the undead tyrant fills the people with hope. And as this hope resurrects a spirit of defiance, Mordath's hold over his conquered realms begins to weaken. The people will follow their hero even in the face of death itself, if they have hope.
On the other hand, Arwyn isn't feeling too heroic herself. She doesn't have thoughts of lifting up the suffering or freeing the enslaved; she wants revenge. Mordath is responsible for the deaths of her loved ones and she won't rest until he's paid for causing such suffering. When stumbling across a scene of atrocious carnage, she's ready to just walk on by. There is no thought of helping out; she's got a fragment to find.
All in all, the writing is solid, from plot handling to character delineation to setting/mood establishment. Thematically, the fiery threat of heroism to the cold spiritual bleakness of obsession is well written. In terms of pacing, this issue has less action than is typical in this title, but the crafting of a very significant thematic point to the upcoming story arc is a very engaging read.
The artwork is magnificent. Land's compositions are astonishing in their visual impact. The icy landscape of Skarnhime, the diabolic charm of Lady Khiva, the vivid facial expressiveness of all the characters, and the dynamic point-of-view handling, these all come together to create a splendid story. Land's artistry is on full display in this issue. Even his annoying habit of having Arwyn take cheesecake poses and looking out at the reader is restrained in this issue.
"We should just leave before we're the cause of any more distress. We have duties of our own to attend to."
An exploration of the meaning of heroism is a very important theme in epic fantasy fiction. It is especially relevant to this title. We've been with Arwyn for over two and a half years now, but she's still a cipher. She is defined by her quest, with only brief, occasional glimpses into her soul. I'm hoping that this story arc will finally get down to the core of her person; what makes her a hero?
If you haven't been reading this title, this is a perfect jump-on point. It's well written, has excellent art, and discusses a salient thematic point, heroism. I highly recommend this issue.
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