Page 45 Review by Stephen
The cat and the captain have a long way to travel.
Stealthily they prowl across wetlands, through meadow valleys lush with summer-green trees, and over buzzing forest floors which prickle with humidity during daylight, then fall to dark, dank and dangerous at night.
The fabled island of Isola lies far, far away and, they say, is surrounded by vast stretches of water. It is also said that the souls of the dead reside there. But no one knows if it actually exists.
The cat and the captain have a long way to travel, without any guarantee that they'll ever get there.
That's one of the reasons. There are so many more.
This first issue opens on a night of natural indigo, high up on a mountain range commanding spectacular views which are obliterated by sheets of driving rain.
The soldier sits guard outside the tarpaulin tent in a Moebius hat, fur-trimmed cloak, leather boots and leggings. Her lance-like spear is struck, up-ended and so ready in the ground. Under the tarpaulin sleeps the adult tiger, but its rump and tail stick out the back, so the loyal soldier shelters its hind with her shawl.
A ssssss-ssssssound from one side attracts her attention, luring the Captain from her vigil. Repeated, she falls for its call, cautiously following it, bent-over under gnarled, twisted tree-trunks which look more like roots rising from the craggy terrain. And there sits a fox with eyes glowing gold, perched upon what
? A stone seat upon a stone pole? There are others. Did they once house a feral parliament or perhaps a raised rail?
She follows the fox down into a major brook and the colours shift subtly, introducing more than a hint of lambent green. And there lies her charge: the tiger, shot dead on the river-bank with a flash-flurry of arrows.
"No! No! This is all my fault!"
"Yyyyyyessssss" the sound seems to say, backwards, upside down.
"I'll kill you for this! You hear me?"
Then the tiger disappears
The arrows disappear
And she's left standing all alone in the water.
Hello! How are you doing? This is terrific!
Don't worry, come morning, the big cat rises from the tent and braces itself against itself, stretching its back/spine and sinews under the more golden glow of an early dawn.
It leaps up the rocks to gain the best vantage point and take in the lie - and so lay - of the land. But it looks back. Back to an island from whose distant, highest peak rises a dark plume of dense, ugly smoke in front of the breath-taking aurora.
And it laments.
It doesn't speak - this creature cannot speak - but it laments. It's all evident in its ever so suggestive but underplayed body language.
Time and again, I've written about artist Sean Phillips as an exceptional character actor (most recently in KILL OR BE KILLED and THE FADE OUT reviews), and that's what our best comicbook artists are. Karl Keschl does the same here for the feline, and it is done with quiet and controlled dignity but also decisiveness as befits the tiger's true nature.
Like me, you too will be bursting with delirious conjecture yourselves. That's exactly how it should be. This is both exquisitely beautiful and so supremely well judged, not least for throwing you in half-way through the equivalent of any other chapter two without a clue as to what has transpired so far. You are now embarked - and so invested - with the captain and the cat on their journey.
Neat trick #1: I love the luminous glow of the tiger's inverse stripes once the sun hits their spots. But only then, for the lighting and shadow do so much to illuminate the big cat's muscular form. There is a degree of tranquillity and calm which others would have jettisoned in favour of spectacle and show.
Neat trick #2: they're a party of two, but only one of them can speak. This is pretty brave storytelling, and it is impressively successful. The Captain can only infer from the cat's cool, calm but occasionally halting stares and glares, how she / he / it is reacting to what's thrust against them. Nor can the captain know for sure that what she suggests is fully understood, though I think it is.
You will encounter others on your way, for they will encounter others on their way.
But you just know that they can never go home.
Top tip: 'isola' (ee-so-lah) is Italian for 'island'.
Due to deference paid by the soldier to the big cat, you may by now have guessed that she isn't simply a tiger, but that personal pronoun is all I'm giving away. As their perilous journey progresses and they become separated, you will discover other denizens of this world who may not be entirely human either.
You're going to be treated to the lushes of landscapes in every weather, and I, for one, am a sucker for rain under canvas as anyone who's read Luke Pearson's all-ages HILDA AND THE TROLL will already know.