Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Listen well, boy. Right now there is no quarrel between us.
"No blades have been drawn and no blood spilled.
"I still have my wine and you still have your life. Get up now, walk away, and I will forget this.
"Continue to act the fool, though... and... It. Will. Cost. You."
No, not Stephen suggesting someone ought to stop shuffling the superhero shelves like Paul Daniels performing some parlour prestidigitation with a pack of cards. Though frankly, we like that. NOT. A. LOT.
It's actually Baron Raymond Mondragon, formerly the finest knight of the First Crusade and now a wine-swilling sot of a PTSD-afflicted psychopath indulging in a little campfire pep talk. He's been press-ganged into investigating the strange goings-on half-way up the nearby Pyrenees by local liege Lord Montfort because he's exactly the sort of no-nonsense lunatic you need when there's talk of lights in the sky, rampaging demons and a scared witless local populace to 'reassure'... Still, I guess that is exactly how they rolled, well, clunked along, in medieval times. Tough love and all that.
The lights in the sky would be a crash-landing spaceship and the rampaging demons hungry aliens, by the way... So perhaps the trembling villagers, who've holed themselves up in the local keep, might actually have a point.
So far, so DARK AGES by Dan Abnett & Ian Culbard. If you were a fan of that title, this similarly self-contained one-off will be absolutely 100% perfect for you. Nathan Fairbairn does a sterling job of creating an extremely dissolute cast of characters from the headcase heavies, foolish be-Knighted social fops, evil lackeys of the Church, heretics accused of witchcraft and, of course, lots of sacrificial serfs ripe for extraterrestrial snacking.
Many of the cast die gruesome and horrific deaths - it's very ALIENS in that respect, which is a slight shame because they are great characters! I could really go as far as to say this is primarily a character-based story, there are that many individual sub-plots and points of inter-personal conflict going on. You might think they'd be better served spending more time worrying about the brutal beasties rather than arguing over religious points of principle and who is going to Hell. Because by the end even the few that survive will feel like they've been to the very lowest level of the fiery pit and clawed their singed way back out, as Baron Mondragon decides they need to beard the monsters in their lair and heads for the crashed spaceship. A gunboat diplomat right to the bitter end!
Excellent art from Matt Smith, not to be confused with the other artist Matt Dow Smith who does a fair amount for Marvel. This Matt Smith I wasn't familiar with beforehand, but what a wonderful fine line he has, yet still manages to produce such strong vivid imagery. I should add a further note of appreciation for writer Nathan Fairburn as also he does the colouring and lettering. They make a fine team, these two, and I believe they are already hard at work on another series for Image.