Publisher: Image Comics
Writer/Artist: Andrew MacLean
Colourist: Jordie Bellaire
Release Date: 21st June, 2017
The second part of Head Lopper’s ‘Crimson Tower’ storyline sees our heroes splitting into three groups to try and reclaim the Crystal Eyes from the depths of the eponymous tower. And once again, in spite of the seemingly “cartoony” aesthetic, writer Andrew MacLean’s impressively earnest take on both the story and the world he has created gives Head Lopper its beating heart.
I’ll admit to having a brief moment of doubt during the dialogue-heavy opening to this latest chapter, fearing that it may be stilting the progression of the story somewhat to have our heroes standing around refining combat techniques and recounting old fables. Oh how wrong I was. Practically every single word in this opening scene pays off later in the issue, and I almost feel like I should be penning a personal apology to Maclean for ever having doubted him.
That said, as solid as the narrative undoubtedly is, Head Lopper has always been a uniquely visual creation, and watching MacLean and colourist Jordie Bellaire once again working together in perfect synergy is an absolute pleasure. And, without wanting to slight previous colourist Mike Spicer, who did a truly stellar job on the earlier issues, Bellaire takes it to a whole new level here, adding an extra layer of tension and depth to the proceedings as our heroes go about their deadly business.
Maclean’s character design and choreography continues to be absolutely out of this world, and the sense of fluid movement that he manages to pack into still images is as ridiculously impressive as always. The scenes where Norgal does battle with the wild-eyed Harpies are particularly enjoyable, with frantic swirls of motion and a creative use of framing during a chaotic sequence that somehow never becomes disorienting.
What’s perhaps most surprising about the series – for new readers, at any rate – is just how much emotion MacLean packs into the story. It’s not melodramatic or forced, but the careful pacing and gentle characterisation really helps us relate to the heroes, and when tragedy does strike (as it frequently does), we feel their pain and grief way more acutely than MacLean’s stylised approach would perhaps have us expect.
There’s definitely something similar to Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo in that respect, with a superficially ‘cute’ or ‘kid-friendly’ artistic style belying a deep, emotionally mature series. Yes, there’s still humour and lighter moments along the way – most of which are provided by the severed head of Agatha the Blue Witch, who has some absolute gems in this latest chapter – but the straight-faced approach to the storytelling provides a wonderful juxtaposition that really helps to give this series its unique appeal.
Ultimately, Head Lopper continues to confound expectations, creating a nuanced fantasy storytelling experience that Robert E. Howard would be proud of and wrapping it up in a bright, vibrant and highly stylised visual package. I honestly can’t recommend this series enough.
If you want to find out more about HEAD LOPPER, make sure to check out our interview with Andrew MacLean by CLICKING HERE.
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The writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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