- Script – Kurt Busiek
- Art – Benjamin Dewey
- Colors – Jordie Bellaire
- Letters – John Roshell, Jimmy Betancourt
- Publisher – Image Comics
I’m unsure when I was first exposed to anthropomorphized characters. I wouldn’t doubt that it was Disney’s Robin Hood and the roguish fox that walked on two legs in place of an emerald clad human. Being Canadian, I was lucky enough to regularly see episodes of the animated Redwall series based on the books by Brian Jacques where mice and badgers fight foxes and rats with weapons instead of claws. As long as I’ve enjoyed fantasy there have been just as many paws as fingers wrapped around sword handles and I’ve tired of it. Mouse Guard is one of my favorite comic book series and I always seem to find a way to bring some form of anthro race into my homebrew worlds for D&D. So imagine my surprise, and elation, when I stumbled upon Tooth & Claw from Image, a new series about anthro wizards and a world running out of magic, to review. I think it goes without saying, I was in.
Writer Kurt Busiek brings us a fantastical setting of hovering cities and powerful arcana, all of it beautifully illustrated by Ben Dewey. Jordie Bellaire brings a subdued vibrance with her colors and when all three are combined into something this special, you have to take notice.
The story begins with narration as we take in the sights of a floating city, its myriad inhabitants of various species, and get a glimpse at the daily lives of those whose world we have been invited to tour. We initially follow Dunstan, a young bull terrier finishing up his prayers to a pantheon of gods before his father interrupts him to help him in a trading transaction. It does not goes as Dunstan would hope and we quickly gain insight into his character; he is less assertive and aggressive than his father and more empathic, which may not be too bad considering his dad’s actions towards the ‘lesser ones’ he trades with. He won’t be winning supervisor or father of the year anytime soon, is all I’m saying.
Shortly after, we are introduced to both another titular character in the form of the warthog Gharta of Daiir, the Seeker, and the story’s main plot. It seems magic is fading, something all the wizards of the world have felt. Someday soon all the spells they have worked around their floating cities will fail and what then? Will starvation seek them out first once their power is gone or is it war that will call upon them before the end? Perhaps, or perhaps there is a way to reach back into the past in order to fix the present. Gharta believes that is the only option available to them and she may be right. What might it cost to find out, though? What is the price of stability, or, greater still, survival?
This book was a fantastic read and I’m thrilled to have come across it. Kurt builds a fascinating world brimming with airships, politics, tension, and history in forty-eight pages, a feat that some need a whole novel to accomplish. There is more to flesh out, of course, but Tooth & Claw has so much to offer in the first part of its run that it leaves you completely satisfied. Plus, if for some reason you are not sucked in by the world from the start, the questions posed by the end of the issue will hook you like a curious and hungry trout. I cannot wait to see where this is going.
It doesn’t hurt that the art is gorgeous, both in style and in color. It feels classic, each panel like a modern and contemporary Renaissance painting. Dewey’s art grounds the world, bringing believability to a place where buffalo’s walk on two legs and owls speak with turtles and bears who cast spells. There’s a history here and by painting such a masterful landscape, whether it be in the clouds or not, the illustrations helps secure you by the rope of words that drew you in.
Alongside the art, Jordie Bellaire’s colors bring life and atmosphere that help to further inform how the world of Tooth & Claw feels. They are vibrant but not overwhelming, conveying both seriousness and amusement. This is a fairy tale, high fantasy story and the art and coloring could have made it feel goofy or childish. Bellaire’s work, however, showcases that a serious story need not be drab or one filled with talking animals need be childishly bright. She manages a balance between the two with ease, something not expected from the colorist of Pretty Deadly.
Fantasy lovers rejoice, for we can now add Tooth & Claw to our growing collection of comics in our favorite genre. Once this is collected I will be sure to set it immediately beside my Mouse Guard hardcovers, and Rat Queens paperbacks. At the moment, though, I will wait for the next issue as impatiently as a wolf lying in wait for its next meal. I too look forward to digging my teeth (and claws) into the rest of this feast of a series.
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