Writer: Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl
Artist/Cover artist: Kerschl
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US
All I needed to know about Isola to add it to my pull list was that it was being illustrated by Karl Kerschl. I knew it would be a lovely book — and it is — but his and Brenden Fletcher’s story of myth and magic is much more compelling than I expected. The creators only give us the tiniest of tastes of the fantastic world they’ve created here, but it’s rich and full of promise. It feels as though Isola has the potential to be to fantasy and fable what Saga is to science-fiction. I have no doubt this is going to be the comic that next month sends readers scrambling at the last minute to grab a copy of an all-too short supply, as it could easily fly under the reader of my regular mainstream comics readers. Giving your retailer a heads-up about it would be wise — not out of any kind of collectibility, but because you really don’t want to pass up a chance to read this comic.
The queen of Maar has fallen victim to a spell that’s transformed her into a tiger, and her dedicated protector, Rook, is determined to bring her to the fabled land of Isola, where she’s convinced there are those who can undo the curse. But the path there is fraught with dangers, such as powerful wild beasts and the unscrupulous men who hunt them. However, what worries Rook the most is that she’ll forget her station and treat her majesty as a beast and not as the monarch she’s sworn to revere.
What struck me about the very first panel of this comic book was how pronounced an influence Moebius is on the art of Karl Kerschl, at least for this project. The design for the heroine of the book looks like something right out of the legendary French artist’s repertoire. Promotional material for this comic touts that it will appeal to fans of anime director Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and that influence is apparent as well. One can see it easily at first in the dream sequence featuring a mischievous and mysterious fox avatar, but then it jumps out just about any time an animal or beast shows up in the story. There are other influences to be found as well. The protagonist’s tiger companion evokes memories of some Disney work, for example.
I’ve always loved Kerschl’s work, ever since I first saw it on an Iceman mini-series from Marvel years ago, but I have to be honest — Msassyk’s colors elevate his linework beyond its usual high level. So much of the issue is bathed in an eerie green glow; it pervades the surroundings and envelops the tiger queen. It reinforces the natural back in which the story unfolds but also the supernatural elements that are such an integral part of the story. I also appreciated Aditya Bidikar’s slender letterforms. Somehow, it instilled a classic tone to the dialogue while remaining clear and accessible.
Rook’s deference and reverence of her queen really comes off as quite pure and honorable, and there’s a natural formality to how she speaks to her transformed mistress. But Fletcher and Kerschl wisely instill a more grounded, relatable tone to the character as well. When she forgets herself and her charge’s true nature, there’s a more natural tone to her speech, far more colloquial and modern. The circumstances and premise of the story are alien, so making Rook behave more like a regular person is vital to inviting the audience into this world comfortably. I also appreciated the fact that they dropped their audience into — well, maybe not the middle of the story, but well after the beginning. They’ve done so skillfully, as everything one needs to follow this strange story is here.
Though we’ve just dipped our toes into this world, one is left with the distinct impression the creators have fully constructed it already. The politics, topography and sociology of this mythical land all seem well realized even though we’ve little information about it all as yet. The challenge for the writers — one they seem certain to meet — is that they’re building two worlds: the fabled destination from which the comic derives its title and the world outside Isola. Though we’ve never seen Maar and only a small portion of the wilds outside that city with only a handful of characters, the audience is left with the distinct impression of how complete and complicated this world is. 8/10
Note: This comic is slated for release April 4.