The Making Of A Modern Fantasy In Williamson And Bressan’s ‘Birthright’ [Fantasy Week]
It’s Fantasy Week here at ComicsAlliance, but I’ve got a confession to make: I find it hard to get into fantasy stories. I often struggle to connect with their conflicts and invest in their struggles without a grounding in something real and a representation of something I can recognize as true. I hate to say it, but I need more than elves, dwarves and orcs to commit to a fantasy story.
Skybound’s Birthright manages to take classic fantasy tropes and tell a very real and very human story across two worlds. In a very modern portrayal of the genre, Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan, Adriano Lucas and Pat Brosseau have established a fantasy world with something very real to say about our own.
Birthright starts out in a very familiar place, as a young boy from the normal, non-magical realm finds himself whisked away to a magical kingdom and is informed that he is the Chosen One destined to kill the God King Lore and free the land of Terrenos from his tyranny. However, where Birthright excels is in its examination of the emotional toll that this calling takes on not just the hero, but his immediate family.
Over the course of a year, the Rhodes family fell apart without their youngest child Mikey; the father was accused of murder and became an alcoholic, the mother filed for divorce, and their oldest son refused to give up hope that his brother would return, no matter how much of a pariah it made him socially. However, Birthright really kicks into high gear when Mikey returns one year later as a fully grown adult with one last quest to complete back home on Earth.
Williamson’s handling of Mikey throughout the run --- which is still ongoing --- is nuanced and deliberate, and repeatedly reminds the reader that the types of things Mikey must have seen and done over the course of relative decades must have left a huge mark. The parallels to post-traumatic stress disorder are highlighted explicitly in an early scene where a gas station attendant attempts to sympathize with Mikey’s father, assuming that Mikey is a veteran recently returned from duty.
In many ways, Birthright reminds me somewhat of Homeland --- without the racism --- as Mikey brought a lot more of Terrenos home with him than he’s willing to divulge to his family, and his motives might not be as clear and heroic as he claims them to be. Flashbacks to his time in Terrenos reveal the harsh conditions and complex moral decisions Mikey was forced to deal with on a daily basis, and it’s no surprise that someone in his position would return home significantly worse for wear.
As the title suggests, Birthright is about family, and the different interlocking relationships contained therein. As the series continues on, the Rhodes’ family’s connection to Terrenos is explored in much more detail, highlighting why Mikey is so special to the land, and his friendship with the winged Rya gives the comic’s title a whole new meaning as we see where their relationship led.
The land of Terrenos isn’t a picturesque Arthurian fantasy land, and has more in common with H.P. Lovecraft than J.R.R. Tolkien. Andrei Bressan’s designs for the monsters and creators on both sides of the conflict are detailed and often nightmare inducing, portraying the grim reality of a magic realm at war with its darkest aspects. His attention to detail in crowd shots and battle scenes is nothing short of breathtaking, and serves to bolster and support the worldbuilding necessary for a fantasy title to thrive.
As the magic and mayhem of Terrenos begins to cross over into Earth, Bressan is able to switch things up enough to let the reader know that this is wrong, and these two worlds should not be interacting. It wouldn’t be fully possible without the colors of Adriano Lucas, who contrasts the down-to-earth grittiness of Earth with the almost neon pinks, greens and blues of Terrenos’ magic, and really shines when he gets to draw the cursed blood red associated with the demonic God King Lore.
While I often struggle to connect with fantasy stories, Birthright roots the conflict in a very personal story, sturdy enough to carry the weight of the building blocks that make the fantasy so compelling. Birthright manages the tricky task of building not just one, but two worlds to get lost in, and shows that family is just as worthy fighting for as the fate of an entire magical kingdom.
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