So this is how Sword of Hyperborea ends. Not with a bang or a whimper, but with a touch of the blues. The final vignette in a series of four, Sword of Hyperborea #4 eschews modern cavemen or monster hybrids for the story of a struggling blues musician. It’s not what most would expect from the climax of a story spanning generations, but being climatic isn’t what this story is really concerned with. There’s still a monster and an ancient sword, but expect a lot more café conversations and jam sessions.
Rob Williams and Mike Mignola return to the sword one more time to tell the story of Elijah Bone, a blues musician who made a deal with a mysterious dark power for his guitar prowess. But more than just his soul, the force demands blood. Elijah begins to get cold feet, questioning how much success is worth. And of course, our old friend, the titular Sword of Hyperborea, is going to make an appearance before all is through…
Looking at the series as a whole, the Sword of Hyperborea has chosen to scale back the stakes with each successive issue. The first opened on the monster-infested end of days, shifting to cavemen fighting monsters beyond their comprehension. The second had a monster hybrid bringing down a Nazi zeppelin. The third focused on a deep sea diver getting caught in machinations of a dark brotherhood. And here we are at the end, with a character who wants nothing to do with any of this supernatural junk. Don’t expect firm answers on the spiritual forces at work, either the ones introduced in this issue or the series as a whole. Elijah himself doesn’t feel like a character that’s being set up for revisitations, either. He’s not the kind of character who you can imagine going on countless adventures outside the pages of this book. He’s someone who got a peek behind the metaphorical curtain and decided that was enough. It’s a quiet anticlimax, the kind Mignola’s storytelling uses as its stock and trade. Nice to see that after so long, the universe can still keep its sense of quiet mystery.
Laurence Campbell’s paneling has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting throughout the series in giving the Sword of Hyperborea its sense of mystery, and the opening page gives a good example. It shifts from the sword, to a sword-shaped crossroads, to wind-swept grain and Elijah’s face, soaked in sweat. It immediately establishes the sword as draping a massive shadow over the rest of the issue, lingering in the mundane details of Elijah’s life and in the space between panels. His use of heavy shadows and realistic figure work also gives the issue a grounded, gritty feel that is promptly exploded in the surreal climax.
The coloring of Quinton Winter and Dave Stewart adds to the dark, brooding atmosphere by dominating the issue with cool blues and dark reds. But during that aforementioned climax, everything suddenly turns searing orange. And in the aftermath, ashen gray. It’s a color palette that really helps draw the emotion out of the simple storytelling style.
Clem Robins’ use of lettering is also displayed in that opening page, the clear, cartoony “Rrrruuusstttllleee” sound effect wobbling and wavering like the long grass it comes from. His lettering prioritizes cleanliness and clarity, but with subtle touches in his sound effects that really make them pop.
Sword of Hyperborea #4 brings a small-scale human story to the continuing saga of an ancient sword strapped by a caveman to a stick. On paper that shouldn’t exactly work, but it’s delivered with the cool confidence of a seasoned performer. No pacts with the devil needed. It’s out today from Dark Horse at all the usual outlets, so go ahead and pick one up!