Publisher: Diamondsteel Comics
Writer: John Ferguson
Artist: Claire Roe
Colourist: Lauren Knight
Lettering: Phillip Vaughan
Saltire: Annihilation – Part One takes us to the dark ages of Scotland’s history as the guardians of the nation are forced to unite to combat a terrifying new foe. The follow-up to the True Believer and SICBA Award-nominated Saltire: Invasion sees Claire Rowe and Lauren Knight providing the artwork this time for a book that provides a more in-depth look at the fictitious, supernatural mythology of Scotland’s past and the exploits of its chief guardian, “Big Blue” himself, Saltire.
As impressed as I was with the artwork of Julskjaer and Welsh in my review of Saltire: Invasion, newcomer (to me, at least) Claire Rowe provides a whole new aesthetic here with a darker, grittier style that I feel actually works better in conveying the fantasy horror vibe. This is a very dark book visually, with lots of shadow and shading (hell, it is the dark ages after all) and a claustrophobic feel to some of the panels that perfectly mimics the tension and drama of the story itself.
Lauren Knight provides the colour work, keeping things restrained with a muted palette of mainly light blues and greys, but still managing to give everything a great deal of depth at the same time. Together she and Rowe help depict a fully realised world that, while occasionally becoming a little too dark to follow clearly, fits in beautifully alongside the story Ferguson is telling. Make no mistake about it, folks – this is one gorgeous looking book
One of the inherent problems in creating such an epic, sprawling world is keeping the focus on the narrative of the story itself, and in that respect, I didn’t feel that Ferguson quite hit the mark here. Don’t get me wrong, the ideas and the passion that flows through every page of the book are truly admirable, but the story itself suffers slightly as a result of some of the characters not being particularly well developed. Names of guardians are fired at us in rapid succession, but very few are given sufficient time to stand out before we find ourselves charging on to the next one. Of them all, only Talorgan (The Guardian of the Deep Forest Shamans to y’all at home) really set himself out from the rest of the pack to me, and that was due in no small part to his quirkily alliterative method of speech.
The overall story here is far stronger than in Invasion however, with a far more compelling enemy for Saltire and the other guardians to unite against. While the Romans in the previous book were an easily identifiable and accessible enemy, they did feel somewhat generic and more like a means to an end (the creation of Saltire himself) than a legitimate threat. Well, I can confirm that is certainly not the case here as Ferguson unleashes the absolutely inspired horror creation that is Ban Sith upon the people of Scotland – and what a creation she is. Sadistic, malevolent and seemingly unstoppable, she cuts a swath through the Scottish countryside, swelling her ranks as she spreads her curse throughout the nation’s helpless inhabitants. Rowe and Knight absolutely knock it out of the park with Ban Sith, too, providing a truly memorable adversary – all fangs and glares and razor sharp talons.
As with the previous book, some of the exposition is still a little clunky, and the narrative can seem a little disjointed in places as we flit from setting to setting, soaking in what could almost be considered ‘edited highlights’ of skirmishes, conflicts and developments. It almost feels as though Ferguson’s boundless imagination and enthusiasm is working against him a little here, as the book struggles with its page count to cram all the brilliantly realised ideas, tribes, guardians and mythology in. Even the eventual showdown between the “big blue” and the venomous Ban Sith is over almost before it’s begun, and what should have been an epic, sprawling battle between two immensely powerful combatants ends up resolving itself with what is essentially a ‘gimmick’.
Overall though, I’d still recommend giving Saltire: Annihilation – Part One a look. The artwork is fantastic, and the design for some of the characters is absolutely off the charts. There’s also a great story begging to be told here, if only the book would slow down and take a moment every now and again to dip a little deeper into some of its characters, rather than racing onwards to the next piece of (admittedly awesome) lore. This is still a strong book though, and a solid second outing for Scotland’s First Superhero. I’ll definitely be checking out part two of Annihilation, if only to see if my niggles from part one prove to be unfounded.
You can grab yourself a copy of Saltire: Annihilation – Part 1 from all good comic book shops (and some bad ones too, I’d assume).
The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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