By: Adam Basciano
“For the Rhodes family, losing their son was the most devastating thing that could have occurred… but it couldn’t prepare them for what happened when he returned. Skybound’s newest hit turns fantasy into reality in this all-new series from the creator of NAILBITER and GHOSTED.” (Image/Skybound)
Sure, most of the comic books we read are the stuff of fantasy, but Birthright Vol. 1: Homecoming is the first graphic novel I’ve read specifically ascribed to this genre. Having said that, the story starts rooted in reality, and opens with a father playing catch with his son. This slice of classic Americana is upended when the boy gets lost in the woods, in search of the wayward baseball. A year passes, and the cops and media believe the father, Aaron, killed his son.
Birthright highlights the toll the loss of Mikey takes on the family. After Aaron is accused, Mikey’s Mother, Wendy leaves her husband, which leaves his brother Brennan torn between two parents, and his father turns to drinking. Writer Joshua Williamson does a great job in presenting a real world tragedy, with realistic ramifications and fallout. It felt like I was watching an episode re-enactment of a missing child case featured on America’s Most Wanted. The story takes a more fantastical turn a year from the kidnapping, when a full grown man in medieval type armor is taken into police custody, and claims to be the lost child Mikey. Fingerprints and dental records seem to confirm his identity. The story, through flashbacks, indicates that he was taken through a portal to the mystical land of Terrenos. While there, he is saved from an attack by a Razorbeast, by Rook and Rya, who tell him that according to prophecy, Mikey was the chosen one who would defeat the ugly force of nature known as God King Lore, who is oppressing and running Terrenos citizens out of town.
Back in the present of Birthright Vol. 1: Homecoming, adult Mikey explains that the reason he is a full blown adult, is because time moves quicker in Terrenos. Mikey indicates that he killed God King Lore, however, 5 magical warlords have escaped Terrenos, and fled to Earth, with the intention of continuing Lore’s bloody legacy on Earth. The FBI and Mikey’s mom don’t believe him, but his father does. This creates more dramatic tension between the family. Mikey’s father and his brother Brennan help him in escaping the authorities, and assist him on his journey to finding and killing the first of the five magical warlords. I like how the book goes back and forth between his time as a child, and his present day. The pages of his youth on Terrenos have the awe and wonder of The Neverending Story, while his present day story has the mythology of a King Arthur story and Lord of the Rings.
The writer owns up to the similarities when he has the character of Brennan refer to his now adult younger brother as; a Lord of The Rings reject. Birthright also ends on a cliffhanger, much like The Hobbit moves that were split in two. The book offers two revelations and doesn’t play it safe. After building up Mikey as a hero, the writer reveals that he was actually defeated by King Lore, and coerced into doing his evil bidding on Earth, in exchange for being with his family and their safety. The second revelation is Rya coming to Earth in search of Mikey. While that’s no big deal, the fact that Rya is pregnant with his child, despite him being betrothed to the Queen. The familial strife and romantic entanglement teased at the end, hints that this book could get a little Game of Thrones like in subsequent volumes.
Andrei Bressan is the co-creator and artist of Birthright Vol. 1: Homecoming. His work isn’t too realistic, nor does it look too animated. I think it is a mix of both, that serves the Earthly and mystical elements of this book well. One of my favourite pages was the splash page looking over all of Terrenos. It’s described as the meanest place on Earth, and despite that, the full page view gave it a sense of wonder and forbidding. It’s a mix of hills, mountains, there’s greenery. There are lakes with a mystical mist emanating from them. There’s flying pterodactyl like creatures and monstrous creatures rummaging about. There’s lots to explore from Terrenos beyond what we’re shown in volume one. Rook is an Ogre and Rya is a fairy type character, but never once did I think; “Oh there’s Shrek and Tinkerbelle.” Ogre’s and fairy’s are almost a prerequisite in fantasy stories, but their unique looks set them apart. Given their armor, weaponry, and in Rya’s case, her wings.
These aren’t Disney characters, they’re the freedom fighters of Terrenos. The Razorbeast is an interesting animal. It looks like a cross between a Dragon and a tiger. Color scheme wise, it looks like Clifford the Big Red Dog. So picture Dr. Frankenstein piecing together a dragon, tiger and Clifford, and a Razorbeast is the result. Adult Mikey was referred to as a Lord of the Rings reject by his brother and Conan by the FBI agent. The Conan reference is on point, as the artistic rendering of Mikey looks like Jason Momoa. Also, his weapon arsenal would give Jon Snow wet dreams. One of my favourite weapons is his flaming sword. Here’s where colorist Adriano Lucas deserves tons of credit. If not for him, the flaming sword wouldn’t look nearly as awesome, nor would the fantasy elements retain any of the flare, or WOW factor. I don’t think this book could be produced in black and white. Color is essential throughout this book.
Birthright clearly has roots in The Never Ending Story, King Arthur, The Lord of The Rings and Game of Thrones. In an interview, the writer and artist said they were fans of those shows, movies and mythology. So it’s natural that these would influence and seep into their work. Even still, the mythology in this book is very fresh. I was shocked and surprised several times throughout this story. I was shocked that the book started with a child going missing. It’s a jarring, forceful way to start a book and really pulls you into the story. I knew Mikey was involved in a fantasy world, given the cover to this volume, but I had no idea, he’d wind up being the grown up medieval protagonist we see early in the book. That, coupled with a cliff-hanger ending, and two more twists, guarantee my return trip to Terrenos. The combination of writing and art proves to be a magical mixture for Birthright Vol. 1: Homecoming.