Page 45 Review by Stephen
"My lady, your body has returned."
There are so many strains of fantasy but the most infectious by far are those that are ethereal and otherworldly, not just in aspect but in custom and cadence and the way in which their creators communicate them to us. ARCLIGHT excels at all four.
Mysteries should not be delivered to you, hand-held, but laid before you in such a way that you are required to tease them apart yourselves. There's a difference between obscure and oblique.
We first meet Lady Kinga in the protection of her loyal knight, Sir Arclight, far out at the border-edge of the Blood House lands. She seems far more at ease amongst its vast trees than surrounded by the courtiers of her kingdom and this is as well, for she is not as she was.
Those are not matted tresses blowing in the breeze from beneath her hood, but twigs jutting out from under it. The noblewoman has become trapped in an alien body, her nature known only to Arclight. She is in possession of arcane knowledge and an instinct in touch with both the natural and unnatural world. She senses that a powerful magic has passed by, warping the wood in its wake, shaping it into tunnels of knotted and gnarled, raised roots.
It is there that they discover a newt-like creature of fire-red skin, limp and dying from its contact with that magic so, in order to preserve the beast, they must perform some of their own, transferring its essence to a goose. For this transition they require blood which, while sustaining life within the body, is always on the move and of which Lady Kinga has none. Instead she uses a portion of what she carries in flasks. All magic here requires the letting of blood, and a lot will be required; but Lady Kinga's supply is limited.
There's so much to recommend this, from the world-building to the world-painting. Like ZAYA, the early pages come with a restrained Arthur Rackham palette in an ancient woodland setting which Rackham admirers would feel quite at home in and populated by the two figures they would be equally comfortable keeping company with. The light at the root-tunnel entrance is very subtle.
Against these olive-browns the blood, the beast and the turquoise cloak which Sir Arclight wears over his carved-bone armour stand out a mile. Later the light - and there is so much light! - will be flecked with pale blues, purples, yellows and greens whorling around in the sky like a William Turner sunrise or storm.
Given that this is written by the creator of MULTIPLE WARHEADS and KING CITY and both drawn and coloured by the creator of the equally allusive, elusive BEAST, you would be so surprised if this repeated old tropes without infusing them with something new to comics. I imagine Charles Vess of SANDMAN, STARDUST and DRAWING DOWN THE MOON would swoon over this, but equally so Monsieur Moebius, for the double-page landscapes are epic.
But this is an alchemical fusion which transmutes those and any other influences into an entirely new element of Churchland's own crafting. I'm speculating on Rackham, Vess and Moebius but I know for a fact that Churchland incorporated Yoshitaka Amano's fashion sense into the mix. Sir Arclight in his aquamarine cloak could easily be from Faerie nobility, far from incongruous in A Midsummer Night's dream, and there is much of the Elizabethan about everything here from the courtly intrigues to its couture.
And so we come to the androgyny and it's not your Natassja Kinski 'Cat People', girl-with-a-boy's-bob thing going on. Cut to the court, and it's ostensibly a much more sybaritic affair but also, above and beneath that, a genuine, heartfelt and complete relaxation of stereotypes to form new norms. Well, new to comics. Thankfully it's being going on around us in real life for years.
Meanwhile, far beneath those palatial, stone surroundings Lady Kinga's modest apartment, hidden away in a quiet understone pass is - like her new body - far more fibrous with wooden bookshelves, books and an armchair fashioned rather than carved from a tree, retaining its organic shape. I love that her potted houseplants, and those trailing from baskets hanging above, radiate a natural light but - best of all - there's a single panel in which Lady Kinga refreshes her roots by soaking them in a steaming basin of water.
There she studies scrolls to discern what could have hurt her new familiar friend which snuggles itself down on a cushion by her side on the floor. A few hours later there is a knock on the door and that news from Sir Arclight:
Lady Kinga's body is back and resides once more in court. But if Lady Kinga's no longer within it... what is?