Zeb Larson reviews The Autumnlands #6…
The (literally) shattering showdown with the Bison Tribes that tears all alliances apart and sends the series in a whole new direction. Finale of the hit series’ first arc!
Autumnlands comes to a quite-literally explosive finale in this issue as the buffalo clans strike and Learoyd desperately tries to make his plan a success. Despite Learoyd and Dunstan’s best efforts, nothing is going to happen cleanly for the beasts, and other members are acting in their own interests. This issue really sends the first story arc out on a good note, while leaving plenty of tension for the next arc. I will be discussing spoilers in this review, so consider yourself forewarned.
As rain clouds move in on the animals, Learoyd brings Dunstan into his plan. The animals led by Sandhorst flee the ruined city and watch as Learoyd stalls for time with Seven-Scars. Sure enough, Learoyd’s gunpowder bomb sends the cliff toppling on the buffalo army, killing most of them, but leaving enough that Learoyd, Bhord and a few others must make a desperate stand on a stone bridge to buy them time. When rescue arrives from another city, Sandhorst hits Learoyd with a spell and sends him falling into a raging river, afraid that he would not receive credit for the rescue. Dunstan dives in after him, leaving the others behind.
The darkness in Learoyd’s character makes this an especially compelling read. This first arc of Autumnlands has really taken aim at how people approach their heroes, and how the reality of heroism clashes with the “fantasy.” Not only is Learoyd the physical opposite of what the other animals expected, he’s also the moral opposite of what they hoped for. In contrast to their civilized way of speaking and elegance, he is brash and direct. While most of the animals shy away from physical violence, Learoyd embraces it. Indeed, Dunstan is seemingly horrified by Learoyd’s attack on the buffalo. This is part of the classical makeup of heroes: they act outside of the moral structures the rest of us inhabit, which means violence can be perfectly normal to them. That doesn’t stop Dunstan from trying to save Learoyd, but it makes you wonder where he will go next and what will happen as he follows the Champion.
This breakdown of the fantasy genre even extends into the style of the book. Each issue has begun with a faux-intro from a stylized fantasy novel that relates to the issue and the events at hand, with the rest of the issue showing the reality of that event. The book in this issue shows Learoyd in a toga with a sword, a ray of heavenly light illuminating him. Does this sound like Learoyd? While this grounds Autumnlands in the style of the fantasy novels of Tor that were clearly inspiration for the book, it also juxtaposes the view of the book with the view of the comic. With the former being stylized, the latter comes across as the more realistic depiction.
Lingering questions remain, and not just about Learoyd and Dunstan. What’s going to happen to Goodfoot, especially now that the others can look into her attempted betrayal? How will Sandhorst leverage what he’s done, and will any of the other animals be brave enough to speak up against him? How will the other cities react to the Champion’s return, and about the continued failure of magic? Busiek and Dewey will have a lot to explore in the next story arc, but based on what we’ve gotten here I’m not worried.
Overall, this first issue was a solidly constructed slow-burn fantasy comic that has gotten better and better with each other. The book is raising some interesting questions about the fantasy genre and the deconstruction of the fantasy hero. Now that Learoyd and Dunstan have been separated from the others, we’ll get to see more of the world that Busiek and Dewey have created. Cheers.