THE WOLF AND THE CROW #1 from Action Lab – Danger Zone, available now at Comixology, begins a mature and magical drama about a prehistoric tribe facing predators, starvation, and something sinister trying to destroy them. Dan Gordon’s story and Ismáel Hernandez’s stunning art combine for a simple tale about community and the rigors of life that quickly turns into a dark and dangerous fantasy.
Hernandez’s painting is saturated in the same watercolor style that permeates the pages of the book. The sabretooth skull immediately ties the reader to the prehistoric setting. The bleached bones creeping forward from the shadows let you know the darkness is something to be feared in this story, and with good reason.
Gordon demonstrates an excellent command of pacing and escalation with this first issue. The Lotari tribe is set up quickly in a series of scenes depicting life as a constant struggle to find food. Hunting and gathering are both deadly activities when attention slips for just a moment. Gordon establishes the personal dynamics and tribal politics through the hunts to very clearly establish power struggles on multiple levels.
The reader would be tempted to think from the first few pages that this is another take on Clan Of The Cave Bear, but then a few sparks of the fantastic pop in. It’s clear the tribe is not one big, happy family, and a dangerous, external force looks to push them into a different kind of hunt for survival. With each scene, Gordon establishes more complexity between the tribespeople, and the sparks of magic develop a sense of impending conflict that the tribe can’t see coming due to their infighting. I don’t often see a group of characters fleshed out so completely in just one issue, and the stakes build with every page.
This book is gorgeous. Hernandez went with a watercolor style that projects a type of grounded earthiness that’s perfect for the characters, setting, and story. There’s a tendency for watercolors to bleed a little too much to the point of sloppiness, but here Hernandez manages to keep the finer details clear and recognizable. Blades of grass punctuate the river’s edge to accentuate the shoreline. Underbrush and vines flow over the trees where the tribe forages for edible fruit. Matted fur on deer, wolf, and mastodon lay in naturally organic patterns. The look of the book is beautiful.
Even more impressive is Hernandez’s combination of watercolor style with the action scenes. Instead of using the traditional action lines to express speed and movement, Hernandez uses sweeping, curving brush strokes to imply the blur of motion to significant effect. That combination gives a spear throw the energy of speed, but the weight of the thrower’s arm through the arc, creating power and exertion behind the throw. The net result is ferocious action inside a gorgeous painting.
Hernandez keeps the colors grounded with a myriad of earth tones. The tribe is tanned and weathered from outdoor life. Their clothes, a combination of animal bones and hides, retain their animalistic hues from the different wildlife the tribe encounters. And Hernandez’s, again impressive, execution on watercolor style in painting shadows fleshes out the forest surroundings. The reader is constantly immersed in outdoor scenery that’s in constant motion through color, from crouched hunters silhouette against the rising sun to deadly arguments outlined against lonely firelight at night.
Hernandez takes the art up another notch by integrating the lettering into the painting with an airbrush background technique that works beautifully. There are no caption boxes to speak of. Instead, Hernandez subtly softens a vague area underneath the blocks of narration text to provide a readable background that’s blended with the painting but still smooth enough to keep the letters clear. It’s a very specific technique that shows what can happen when art and lettering are done cohesively.
THE WOLF AND THE CROW #1, available now at Comixology, is a compelling, prehistoric drama that evolves into an engaging, dark fantasy. The writing builds a fully-realized world in record time, and the art is spectacular. I’m keenly interested to see what happens next.