By Claire Gibson. Marian Churchland & Sloane Leong
The debut issue of From Under Mountains dropped readers into an unfamiliar world with little preamble. They were greeted on the first page by arms gracefully invoking a spell. Even after the frame pulled back to reveal the women at work, little more was known about the spell casters or the spectral creature they conjured. What was immediately clear though was that the latest component in Brandon Graham’s 8house project would be a compelling, bewitching read. As the series continued writers Claire Gibson and Marian Churchland filled in more of the details of Karsgate Keep and the people residing within it. #4 continues this process of deepening the scope without losing the mysterious atmosphere which first enchanted readers.
That initial installment concluded with the spirit creature assassinating Prince Marcellus,
heir of Karsgate. This tragic turn has cast a pale over the Lord Crowe; he is too consumed with grief to see to the affairs of state. And so his daughter Lady Elena steps up to the task. She assumes his place at council, capably managing questions of disquiet among the nearby goblin population, which threaten to boils over into direct conflict. Elene has been an engaging character since the beginning, possessing a quiet, though, determined nature. She is not the brazen type, yet, she is not resigned either. She wishes for a role other than that of a bargaining chip in dynastic haggling. The princess who dreams of greater things than marriage may not be a new motif, however, Gibson and Churchland breathe a fresh life into it.
This process is deepened in #4 as she crosses paths with Sir Mardin Fisher. Fisher is lauded as a hero of battle, though in his eyes he was merely a cowardly survivor. His melancholy air makes a good complement to Elena’s pensive nature. Each of them have reasons to be weary of the councilors and attendants bustling about them, as each of them are distrustful of the pomp of their lives. This shared perspective suggests kinder spirits. Gibson and Churchland explore these character traits subtly, making their connection feel natural.
Sloane Leong’s art is central to creating the feel of this series, her atmospheric illustrations conveying a strong mood. Characters are often seen in fragments, as in the opening sequence. The sparse dialogue is often broken up with wordless panels, including one centered on Elena’s single green eye. Moments such as these give an emotional charge to the scenes. The most impressive is her rendering of a private exchange between Elena and Fisher. Set on the Keep’s ramparts at dusk, the conversation is bathed in the orange and blue hues of twilight. (Leong provides her own evocative coloring). Elena’s hair blows in the breeze, lending an air of glamor to their discussion of political treaties and historical precedents. The plant life about them has attracted a scattering of butterflies which glide about the pair. As in other parts of the book, Leong uses her page layouts to emphasize both the tension and the common ground between the characters. It is a truly lovely sequence.
All in all, this was another strong chapter of From Under Mountains.
Disclosure: Creator Sloane Leong provided an advance review copy of this comic to Nothing But Comics without any payment between the site and the creator or agreement on the review’s content.